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Weblog Entry

The Continued Death of the Browser

July 18, 2003

Remember the Luxury Web idea I was thinking about a month and a half ago? See link for the complete history. Tim Bray has posted something that made me really sit up and pay attention.

Microsoft appears to have every intention of sacrificing the browser to do what they want to do. And we’re quick to assume that consumers are sheep, and will buy into whatever Microsoft foists on them.

I don’t need a new OS. Do you? 2000 and XP still work fine after the past few years, and will continue to work. This is bad news to Microsoft. Longhorn is a desperate move, because we genuinely don’t care anymore. I don’t care about the next version of Windows anymore than I care about the latest .2Ghz speed upgrade from Intel. I am a consumer, I speak with my wallet, and I say it simply isn’t something I need to spend money on.

So if we’re stuck waiting for a browser upgrade in an operating system nobody is going to buy, then we aren’t going to get it. Don Park points out that the simple most effective way to deploy a new browser is bundling. That’s how Microsoft has won, sure, but what if Longhorn flops?

The consumer may not care about the browser, but they will continue to use the web. Consumers like it. And if they don’t upgrade to Longhorn, the web stands still. I deal with clients that run Netscape 4 because they’ve never bothered to upgrade. Because no one told them they should.

What if they start seeing messages on every third site they visit, telling them they should? The messages are coming from an authoritative voice. Maybe they won’t upgrade the first hundred or thousand times they see the message, but eventually they can’t help but think it’s something they need to do.

And forget the web developer for a moment, the problem goes well beyond those who code front-end only. Web services need that front end. The browser that wins dictactes who can display what. If Microsoft controls this space, Google dies on their whim. See the potential?

Maybe Google should bankroll Mozilla. Maybe everyone working with the web in one capacity or another should think long and hard about how easily Microsoft will crush them and their respective companies with any further monopoly. R.I.P. Netscape. Maybe it’s time for us all to band together.

Maybe the Luxury Web was premature, maybe it’s the wrong approach. But now that our suspicions have played out to the letter and worse in the past two months, maybe it’s time to quit watching what happens, and start doing.

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Reader Comments

Nicholai Ronningen says:
July 18, 01h

How about UNITED AGAINST MICROSOFT? It has a nice ring in my book. Or maybe we should use their moniker - FREEDOM TO INNOVATE. Irony always has a certain appeal.

It really is frustrating to think that the world is so dependant (or so apathetic) that people don’t mind the Microsoft monopoly that much. It’s OK with the average user because the very concept of using another operating system is too daunting (REGARDLESS OF THE FACT THAT THERE IS A BETTER CHOICE).

Seamus says:
July 18, 01h

We could place pop-ups on our websites that tell them to get Mozilla, Opera, or Safari because they have pop-up blocking. ;-)

Tom says:
July 19, 01h

The school I go to and work at, UC Davis, recently made the switch to statying Mozilla as the officially supported browser. Sure, we still have to support IE and the thousands of people that still use it, but the thousands of incoming freshmen are all told to download mozilla for the best experience with all of the web utilities that we have here, and we distribute it on a CD of software that we sell.

On a side note: the second I showed my dad that mozilla blocks popups, he switched.

July 19, 08h

Actually, from the start, I really liked the Luxury Web idea. I think that it’s very appealing to a wide range of people, because who doesn’t want the best of the best, especially when it’s free?

As far as I know, WaSP’s is the only campaign, of that sort, that is well-known. If I want to direct users to a site about upgrading their browsers, I can send them to the previously mentioned WaSP campaign, or to one of the browser (Mozilla, Opera, etc.) homepages.

None of these will appeal to the average web user. The WaSP site is too technical, and, although the design and layout is nice and simple, it is far from “luxurious.” Mozilla’s new design is nice and inviting, but I still feel that the content can be too technical and overwhelming for the average web user. It is difficult for us to see this because we are web designers and developers that are on the net daily and know its ins-and-outs. I would bet that if you told a friend of yours, that’s an average user, to check out one of those websites that are supposed to influence you to switch browsers, they would feel confused, overwhelmed, and, in the end, like they do not care about switching to one of these “confusing” web browsers. To be honest, I imagine that a lot of people wouldn’t even know exactly what a web browser is.

This brings me back to your “luxury” idea. I think that a small site, maybe only 3 - 5 pages, with a classy (luxurious) design and dumbed-down content, that even Auntie Gertrude could understand, would be great. All content should also be as concise and to-the-point as possible. Why people should switch should be explained and also PROVED. Images of websites in IE6 and then in Mozilla and Opera would be great, especially if the websites are well-known and ones that people have likely been to before.

Then it should say somewhere, “Switching is only a download away!” A lot of people probably feel that, “oh boy, switching ‘web browsers’ is probably a complicated process.” But it’s not, and we need to tell them that, using cool, in-your-face images. Below this header will be a very cleanly laid-out list of the alternate, standards compliant web browsers. But we won’t actually say that they “comply with standards, and therefore webpages look like they’re supposed to.” That is far from convincing for the average user. Instead, we will tell them “this browser is so great that xx% of webpages will look even better when you use it!” (or something like that).

Each browser listing should have the browser logo (people love images), the name of the browser, a BRIEF description of why they would want to choose that particular one, a screenshot of a page in the browser (so they can see the interface), and a link that goes DIRECTLY to the download.

Oh yea…I also liked Tim Bray’s idea of mentioning big-name companies that have made the browser switch. I imagine that it would do a great job of convincing average users.

I feel that a “luxurious” site, if designed correctly, could make quite an impact and become very well-known. Heck, even might do a write-up on it; they didn’t hesitate having an article on the “weapons of mass destruction error page” that made its rounds on the net. We need to take this site and turn it into a commercial advertisement that appeals to the masses.

This is just me thinking out loud. To conclude, I’ll leave you with what I feel will be the key points in a successful browser-switching campaign:

- stay away from everything “tech,” including design and content terminology
- cool, hip, classy design
- dumbed-down content that almost everyone will understand
- we need to be advertisers and make browser-switching seem like the hot-new thing, using in-your-face graphics and blurbs that tell how other big-companies are switching

BTW, I love Seamus’s pop-up idea. : )

Anthony says:
July 19, 09h

I was really inspired by Tim’s post and put on my badge as soon as I could. Since Microsoft killed stand-alone IE I have been hoping that innovation by the other browser makers would become so attractive as to make IE “that quaint little browser that comes with the OS.” Kinda like Simpletext on the Mac. Sure, you *could* browse with it, but why would you want to?

Lea says:
July 20, 01h

Someone needs to make a little button thingy ala Steal These Buttons – fast! :) I’d put it in my site… : )

Sunny says:
July 21, 01h

Telling them that their browser is no good, will be counterintuitive. Of course their browser works, because they can view any website they want.

I think passing judgement on the viewers choice of browser is not really effective. The trick lies in politely pushing them towards a resource that gives them more information. This is where the need for a simple, yet effective site preaching the benefits of mozilla comes in. This will allow the reader to weigh his options and ultimately make a decision. Of course they may finally decide not to switch. But we should make our argument strong enough for people to atleast try. Most likely, if they do try an alternative browser, they will switch.

The point is that, we cannot force people to switch a browser. We shouldnt make that decision (or else whats the difference between us and Microsoft?). Show them the possibilities in a clear, human understandable terms and then we have something. Like I said eralier, make the package so enticing that it will be hard to resist.

Jai says:
July 21, 01h

Oh… but that takes all the fun out of tying up our users and shoving them into small rooms blindfolded and forcing them to listen to “Mozilla is better,I go on first and tab the browsing… Opera is better,I leave the user silky and smooth..Oh,really,fool?! REALLY! Stop looking at me, IE!” chanted over and over with calipso music with inscense and candles…

And then hypnotizing them so they subconciously learn to compile binaries and trinaries and the like…

And then…

Oh, the possibilities are endless. But…
“Yeah, you’re pwobably wight” - Homestar Runner

Dave S. says:
July 21, 01h

Everyone seems so focused on a pro-Mozilla campaign. Like masad points out, what if IE7 is that good? Then everyone gets locked into Microsoft’s plans, and on goes the monopoly.

There are two issues here, and let’s be clear to differentiate: standards support and general browser technology, but also browser choice and a continued free market. Not for a second am I interested in promoting the former. If the latter is true, then the former takes care of itself.

What my post seeks to address is that browsers are dying, if not dead, and Microsoft is leading this technology drain. IE has been stagnant forever, but somehow they’ve still managed to fend off all competitors and tenaciously hold their market share.

Either we educate the consumer that they have a choice, that Microsoft isn’t the only way to go - or the masses force our hand into coding for one OS, one browser, and Microsoft dictates the standards.

Web standards as we know them can only survive in a competitive market with more than one product. Supporting anything other than Internet Explorer helps keep that market open.

In private e-mails around the time I was shaping the Luxury Web concept, I began referring to it as a Browser Choice Campaign. This is where the gold is, folks, in keeping the choice alive.

Masad says:
July 21, 02h

“We need to take this site and turn it into a commercial advertisement that appeals to the masses.”

This is soooo right.
What if:IE7 is the most standards compliant super-fast browser ever made. It supports all CSS, PNG’s, and stuff we haven’t even thought of yet (MS is that scary)
Longhorn is bundled with all new pc’s (nothing new)

No one is going to switch? Anyone who buys a new PC will have LH. I switched to XP and love it, sorry to say - I’ve used apple and pc’s, and have to say that for me XP is lightyears ahead old winops.

I said it before on this site in a comment - now is the time - we have until 2005 before MS takes away the opportunity for us (meaning anyone not involved with MS) to get the word out - otherwise Opera and Mozilla and Safari etc will remain what they are today.|

In a sense, if IE7 is what I described above then hooray - but nuts to MS for doing it this way. Lets get people using alternative browsers.

Lea says:
July 21, 03h

I think what is missing, in the end, is a really strong marketing team/marketing scheme/marketing budget. All of which Microsoft has. We wonder why Homeland Security paid MS for their services when there are more secure and better OSes like Linux or Unix as alternatives. It’s because, frankly, Homeland Security doesn’t know better and the Unix or Linux people didn’t stick their nose into their business soon enough to provide competition. Homeland Security simply didn’t know there were alternatives.

I think the same thing goes with the browser wars – consumers right now are unaware there are choices to be made. Like Dave said, the best course if finding out a way to educate consumers so the Power of Choice remains at hand.

I’m not sure how it will all be done, but the Mozilla Foundation and others, I think, need to start getting aggressive. Whether that means partnering up with Google or something else remains to be seen. But it’s best to start now before it’s too late.

July 21, 06h

I definitely agree that a campaign should show consumers that they have a choice of many browsers, and not just give them a link to Mozilla and say “download this!” A small webpage/website that gives brief and understandable summaries of all of the browsers out there might be a good starting point. As I said in a comment above, the site needs to be stylish, clean, commercial, intriguing, influential, and much more.

I’ve already started a design for a site like this, and to this point have been calling it “The Better Browser Campaign.” I’m not sure if I have the time or overall knowledge to write the content for the site. Either way, I’m hoping to get it done.

Jai says:
July 21, 06h

I’m wondering what would be so bad if IE7 (or Longhorn or whatever it’s caled) did comply with all standards. Is it because MS would make it proprietary, and not open source? Heck, if the most popular browser complied with all the standards, then I think we as designers would be happy about it.

Now if they just make sure to incorporate tabbed browsing, I’m thinking IE7 may turn the heads of the die hard Mozilla/Opera fans. And why not?

(this comment brought to by a die hard Mozilla user)

Arikawa says:
July 21, 08h

We could place pop-ups on our websites that tell them to get Mozilla, Opera, or Safari because they have pop-up blocking. ;-)

I know it’s meant to be a joke, but what a great way to alienate any potential upgraders!

I think a large percentage of web users will always experience the Internet through an AOL-like environment. Convincing these folks to upgrade is a true challenge. Perhaps a bigger challenge is showing them how to use a browser other than then the one ‘built-in’ with their ISP software.

To reach that crowd effectively, you’d almost need an ISP to use Mozilla instead of IE in their Internet application. I guess it’s semi-safe to say that AOL isn’t going to do this; we’ll just have to wait and see. Count out MSN. ;-)

But what about Earthlink? Or smaller regional ISP’s? (I only speak of the US, surely there are large competitors of AOL and MSN internationally who could be persuaded).

Might require a large lobbying group though…

Sunny says:
July 21, 08h

I think a better “Dave approved” title would be:

The Alternative Browser Campaign

Sunny says:
July 21, 11h

I think that a small, accessible, and user friendly website singing the virtues of Mozilla is a good idea but I still doubt its effectiveness. You have to understand that more the majority of users IE 6.0 is more than adequate. Frankly, except the lack of PNG support (which is pretty obscure beyond the designer circle…I mean even Adobe Photoshop doesnt support it adequately), there is nothing lacking in IE 6.0 to force someone to switch. Built in pop-up blocking wasn’t available but is now with the Google Toolbar. The only major advancement in Gecko based browsers is that of ‘Tabbed Browsing’, a virtue that should be stressed more often it is. Frankly, nobody cares that Mozilla is open source. Nobody will switch because of that. People will switch if you show them that tabbed browsing is more effective and productive than what they have in IE.

Secondly, no amount of user friendly information, will supplant the lack of a mozilla installer. Yes, there is no installer. An installer is something the average user understands. It is a minor thing but for the average user it provides an ease of mind.

The problem with mozilla is not the product itself (which is awesome beyond measure) but the package. The package is nowhere perfect. There is too much information in way too many mozilla devoted sites. To succeed, we have to sell a coherent, complete and specific signal that cuts through all the noise. And we have two years to do that.

July 21, 11h

I think the trick is for we web designers and web developers to include a little addition on our sights that provide immediate feedback to J. Random WebSurfer that their web browser is sub-standard. Hide a link to a “why you should upgrade page” using a simple CSS2 selector to set ‘display: none’. The browsers that have implemented this feature will dutifully hide that link. The ones that haven’t will display the link.

I’ve included an example of what I have in mind on my site, and I’ve posted some details about it here:

Jai says:
July 21, 12h

They do have a Mozilla installer, but I guess you just have to look for it. Check it out here.

Masad says:
July 22, 01h

“People want to be trendy.”

YESS!! That is the key. I have this ides - Imagine in Canada, an article in Technology, or better, the lifestyle section of the Globe and Mail - pushing how a better browser makes for a better experience. I think it would work.

Eric, if I can quote Dave on this one:
“[it’s about] browser choice and a continued free market. “

(jai: lol!)

Seamus says:
July 22, 05h

For those of you interested, Mozillazine has an article about “Mozilla Marketing Project Launches.

Masad says:
July 22, 08h

“A small webpage/website that gives brief and understandable summaries of all of the browsers out there might be a good starting point.”

This idea is a necessary crack filler, but what we need here is something bigger, something to point the masses to that page. I live in Spain, where the Internet is still awakening to it’s full potential - ie there are plenty of young people here who don’t even know how to turn on a computer.

These people don’t surf the internet that broadly at all - and for them, like a lot of people in NA, IE does the job. Why are they going to change? We’re talking about getting a big ball rolling here.

Now look for a second at Wasp - it is becoming a success - i.e. they made a ball and started it rolling, but it’s got a long way to go still - just have a surf away from Mezzoblue, Stopdesign, and Zeldman for a sec and you will see all of the ‘non-standards’ stuff out there. With this ‘next step’ we’re talking about starting a second much bigger ball rolling…

From my p.o.v., we need to be strategic here. Hit hard where the trends are set - N.A:Newspapers, not ads, but articles. The G and M in Canada (go Craig) with a little something on Opera, for example.
All this hoohah about Google lately - how about a focus on web-standards and alternative browsers in the WSJ?

I may be dreaming here but the internet has changed since Wasp happened. Some of the principles are the same, but it’s mainstream in N.A. now. Hit mainstream - not niche (i.e. weblogs) - media. Get N.A. on board and the rest of us may follow.

Eric says:
July 22, 09h

Now I realize that people are scared of MSFT’s power, but getting people away from IE6 will be tough because there is no compelling reason to the viewer. When upgrading from NS4 people could see an immediate performance improvement, and often a visual improvement. Right now Mozilla offers only a better way to write pages. CSS selectors are nice, but don’t do anything that can’t be replicated in server side code. Alpha PNG is nice, but if its that important to you, you can already do it in IE (in an IE specific way). Pages won’t look better, they won’t be faster, and they won’t have additional functionality. I’ve seen a few sites that say “You are running IE6, you should upgrade to .” This tells me the person is a silly idealist, and my respect for them deteriorates.

Jai says:
July 22, 09h

…I still want to lock people up with the Calipso music; but I digress. Take a look at Cafeshops and imagine shirts, hats, stickers, mugs, geez they even have undergarments… with the “wasp” logo or the “Get a better browser” logo or something along those lines. Alot of crazy stuff starts out like a fad and becomes iconic- maybe the “Better browser” thing could be like that. Something like Homestarrunner, where it’s popularity spreads by word of mouth, great product, and what I call “soft ads” (shirts, stickers, etc.).

And of course, we’d need a mascot, like a Wasp or something. I’m just brainstorming out loud here… well, what’s the equivelent of “out loud” when you are typing? Ranting? Whatever it is, that’s all I’m doing. I mean, MS put a guy in a friggin’ butterfly outfit in the streets of NYC putting butterfly stickers on racy posters. Yeah, they got repremanded by NYC, but the advertising was madly effective!

And for those of you who just plain hate MS, wouldn’t a cool logo be a wasp slaying the MSN butterfly? Not that I’m that much opposed to MS, but some people are. Heck, wasn’t it the Linux Penguin that wizzed on the windows logo? I think it was…

July 22, 09h

I don’t think the campaign should be so much anti-MS, as it should be pro-better browsers. As others have asked, what if IE 7 is a fantastic browser, and we have to start telling people, “um…..we know we told you that MS sucks….but now you should use their new browser, IE 7”? We would look like hypocrites and lose any credibility that we would already have worked so hard to achieve.

I completely agree with Anthony. We have to turn “switching to a better browser” into a trend. A great way to do this is to point out everyone that’s doing it, from big-time companies to the guy next door. And the fact that a trend exists needs to be published by credible sources: CNN, BBC, Google, newspapers, magazines, etc.

Anthony says:
July 22, 09h

I think there could be a certain value, or enticement, in the terms “Use A Better Browser” because it sparks a curiosity. People want the best. People want to be trendy. People want to dislike MS. I’m not so sure you have to sell them on why the alternatives are better. Just make it known that it is the consensus among the “webarati” by posting the buttons. Make it simple for them to install and I think this could be a success. A consistent button/banner look would be critical.

Aaron Smith says:
July 30, 08h

Hey, have you guys heard of Kim Komando. I dont know how to get ahold of her or anything but i guess tons and tons of people see her articles and i think she also has a radio show. She has articles on computer stuff, ya know, tips and tricks and such. Well why not see if she would write an article about web standards. How switching browser’s will make for a better web experience. just an idea

August 10, 06h

If it helps anyone, I’ve made a nice little ASP.NET control that sniffs for major offenders (IE, Netscape 4, etc) and produces a nice little platform-appropriate “text ad” that suggests people check out some modern browsers. If anyone wants to use it it’s at