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Internet Explorer – do we need it?

As announced today, Microsoft will discontinue support for Mac version of Internet Exporer (IE).

BBC NEWS | Technology | Ends nears for Mac version of IE

Of course it’s no surprise that Microsoft is discontinuing support of Internet Explorer on the Mac, this was announced some time ago, but what surprises me is that the Microsoft mactopia website still supports it, e.g. by offering IE downloads, instead of providing a link to the alternatives.

It sounds like a wise decision on the part of Microsoft, to pull out of the browser market for the Mac, but they have no plans to do the same on Windows, since they’re hard at work to finish IE 7, with a beta one already out in limited circulation, and a public beta scheduled for 2006. I really “fear” what tricks MS have up their sleeves, even though I expect them to innovate. What I “fear”, is that closer integration with Windows, and especially Office, are among the key new features.

So far the list of new features isn’t impressive, or something to “fear”, it seems that the focus has been on internal plumbing and standards compliance – kudos.

It’s also interesting to follow the IEBlog. One really interesting, albeit small, thing is that Microsoft will adopt the Mozilla icon for “feeds” (RSS, Atom etc.), this is actually an important step in making feeds understood by the general population, even though the Mozilla icon is not the best designed I’ve seen, it’s actually quite meaningless, we now have a de-facto standard – “a small step for Microsoft – a quantum leap for Feeds”.

I’ll hand it to Microsoft, they’re really open about the development of IE 7. The fact that Microsoft now actively, and increasingly, are leveraging the benefits of openness and community driven development cycles, is actually the most important turn around of the company, since Gates suddenly discovered the Internet, and with blazing speed made the supertanker do a 180 on their online plans, with amazing success. For proof… I believe that IE topped out at a whopping 95% market share.

I do like some of the ideas Microsoft are pushing with IE7, especially the decision to move important status information to the top of the IE Window.

The question remains. Do we really need IE when we have cross platform browsers, that are more than good enough?

My top feature request is that Microsoft drop ActiveX support entirely, it seems that they spend a lot of effort on patching ActiveX and inventing, counter-intutive and overly complex, security schemes. One of the first benefits, IMHO, would be the “unbundling” of Windows Update from IE. There’s absolutely NO need to embed the update function in a browser, look to the Software Update client on the Mac for hints on how to do it ;-).

In my opinion, ActiveX has outlived it’s usefulness. Microsoft pioneered code signing, and ActiveX was actually an extremely well designed technology that leveraged the browser through the richness of the Windows platform, when it was launched in IE 3. ActiveX really took the Web experience to new levels, something we’ve forgotten in these Web 2.0 days.

Really…The main reason there’s no real need for a new version of IE, is the recent improvements in providing rich client interfaces using browser technologies (Web 2.0), first and foremost Ajax.

Even though I’m a great fan of old skool postbacks, I CAN see the potential of the new technologies, and my hope is that the developers on the Windows platform (.NET developers), and even more important, their managers and clients, will avoid the temptation of developing applications that only works with IE. Even though it will, most likely, be a more difficult path to travel, but remember…”The path less traveled, leads to the biggest reward”.

BTW, I still use Internet Explorer, but in a rather unconventional fashion. Because my home banking requires ActiveX, I usually access my Windows Laptop using Chicken of the VNC (VNC client for the Mac), when I need to do home banking.

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