Pleeeeenty has been going through my head the past few days. Consider this a brain dump if you will. I’m probably very wrong in my conjecture and conclusions, but we all need to vent from time to time.
So Microsoft killed Mac IE this weekend, if you were living under a rock. There has been a rather high volume of coverage. I figured it was inevitable as soon as it became apparent that Microsoft’s strategy involved bundling the browser and the OS. Obviously they can’t touch Mac OS, and whether that’s valid reasoning of not, it spelled out IE’s fate on the platform.
Microsoft was initially caught off guard by the web, spent years playing catch–up, and now wants to kill it. The browser in use by the majority is effectively dead, or at least quickly dying. What’s the future, according to Microsoft? Proprietary services. MSN, .Net, and so forth. Conveniently these all will make them far more money than IE ever did.
Fine, good, whatever. Where’s the comfort to be taken in all of this? What good can Mozilla, Opera, or Apple hope to inflict upon the web given their abysmal collective market share? What possible reason do they have to continue any development when Microsoft has so clearly won? Let’s all pack our marbles and go home, because play time is over. The consumer doesn’t care about the browser, and ends up using whatever takes the least effort. IE wins. Microsoft wins. They can do whatever they want now.
Okay, get ahold of yourself. Have we gotten the pessimism out of the way? Good, now let’s try and figure out — constructively — what all this means and what happens next.
Let’s think like each of these companies for a moment, and see what happens:
Opera is a browser company. They make and sell a browser (and variations thereof), no more, no less. This is great news: their biggest competitor has literally decided to stop competing. Opera is in a good spot. Now all they have to do is get someone to start bundling their product with hardware. Hello wireless. A market Microsoft doesn’t own.
Apple is largely a software company. They sell a variety of products, the most important being their operating system which competes directly with Microsoft. John Gruber has a great write-up on what must be happening over in Cupertino right now. Here’s another thought to add on to the heap: we’ve seen how crummy browser–detection scripts lock out fringe browsers — how successful is Microsoft going to be in locking Apple out of their future plans? Their market share may erode awfully quickly if you can’t use the internet on a Mac. They just got forced into a committing to Safari. That’s a ray of light for developers, and we’ll all be sure to thank Apple for it, won’t we? Go tell Dave Hyatt how much you love him.
AOL has more options. They just won the right to license IE free of charge for the rest of the decade. So will IE6 live within AOL’s software until 2011? Not likely. Their long–term strategy must involve Mozilla to some degree. Netscape’s days may be coming to an end, maybe they aren’t, but one thing is abundantly clear — AOL needs to continue developing their own software and break the Microsoft habit. They just collected three quarters of a billion dollars from Redmond: they just used up their Get Out of Jail Free card. The gloves are off.
And lastly, let’s not forget the consumer. I have a collection of sites I visit frequently in my bookmarks. I’m sure every single person with a web browser has a similar collection, regardless of their technological expertise. The publishers of these sites will continue to publish, which means they will continue to require a medium to publish.
People like the web. They like their Google, and Salon, and ESPN. You like developing for it. Because Microsoft has decided they don’t, doesn’t mean Microsoft gets their way. What could they possibly provide that would convince hundreds of thousands of web developers world–wide to a) re–learn, b) re–build, and c) re–develop their entire skillset and toolbox? On any other day we groan about the inherent human nature to stick with what it knows, but today let’s take solace in how many developers have yet to truly embrace web standards. These are the same people Microsoft has to convince.
The web’s not going anywhere.
(This originally started out as a post on wireless technology, if you can believe it. It’s one more angle to consider — the desktop browser may be locked, but mobile devices, set–top boxes and the like are still anyone’s game. The web is far from over, and while things might be at a stand–still for a few years, standards are more important now than ever.)