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Joel on Software

2003/06/01

by Joel Spolsky
Sunday, June 01, 2003

Internet Explorer 7.0

Interesting things are going on in the browser front. Slashdot has discovered an off-the-cuff remark in a chatroom by a Microsoft employee claiming that “IE6 SP1 is the final standalone installation.” Little surprise; there has been virtually no work on the IE web browser for a couple of years now and it looks like Microsoft has no interest in spending resources on a battle they already feel they've won.

Meanwhile the Mozilla and Opera teams were getting bogged down in ground-up rewrites, oops, so there was little or no serious competition and IE climbed in popularity until today we have more than 90% of the world using Windows IE 5 or 6.

Where it gets interesting, is, approximately, today, because, for the first time, the Mozilla Firebird browser has finally caught up with Internet Explorer. After downloading virtually every Mozilla release over the last three years, this is the first browser I'm actually going to make my default web browser. All the little problems are fixed. It loads fast. It's not ugly and clunky. My beloved Alt+D/Ctrl+Enter work perfectly. NT challenge/response authentication is supported. And there are new features, too: tabbed browsing, which is better than it sounds. Incremental search, which is brilliant and I already can't live without. Text size adjustments that always work. A download manager. Excellent cookie management. Oh, and no more whack-a-mole, the reason I've been trying to switch for so long in the first place. Bravo! Now with a good code base to build upon, Firebird is likely to soar past IE in functionality and performance. With some real competition, perhaps Microsoft will again have an incentive to make improvements of their own. Maybe, after 5 years, Microsoft will care enough to make text scalable. Maybe they'll finally fix the bug that causes 99% of web site icons to be lost. But they probably won't wake up and notice that they have real competition for a long time, and in the meanwhile, we may once again have a two browser world.

What about AOL?

Meanwhile, Microsoft has settled the lawsuit with AOL, agreeing to pay AOL $750,000,000 in a complicated deal that allows AOL to continue to use Internet Explorer for several years. I'm not sure why the second part is interesting. Everybody in the world is allowed to use Internet Explorer; it's built into Windows and open to all developers as a component. I suppose one possibility is that Microsoft plans to not make IE available to all developers as a component in some future operating system, and AOL wants to make sure that won't affect them. Considering that AOL spent $4.2 billion to buy Netscape, you'd think somebody would have noticed that they already have a browser component. Aha, but they don't. The Internet Explorer component is so much easier to embed in applications than Gecko that it probably comes down to the programmers on the AOL client team who just don't want to undergo the pain to embed Gecko. Now, if you're a programmer at AOL working on Mozilla, and you like your job, you might want to think about what it's going to take to make your happy little division actually useful to AOL so you aren't jettisonned. My highest priority would be to implement Mozilla as a COM control that supports the same embedding interfaces as IE, so that the AOL programmers can switch to Gecko. Oh, look! There is one Netscape employee, Adam Lock, working on this! And he says, “be advised that these ActiveX related projects are my own personal efforts and have absolutely nothing to do with my employer. I work on them when and if I have the time.” Yo, Netscape employees! This poor sod Adam Lock is working in his spare time to save all your jobs. Wake up.


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About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, which lets you organize anything, together, FogBugz, enlightened issue tracking software for bug tracking, and Kiln, which provides distributed version control and code reviews. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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