Thursday, 6 March 2008

Memoirs of a browser user, part 3

Thunder echoed from afar. A storm was coming.

We don't hear much about IE these last 18 months or so. IE 7 was released, and finally tabbed browsing included. But IE is still IE. It is still part of Windows.

Improve it has. IE finally earned some respect for introducing major improvements. IE 7 may be behind Firefox 2 and Opera 9, but it's slowly reducing the gap.

But these improvements appear at a very slow rate. Even Firefox and Opera's development cycle are much faster. What's the deal, some analysts asked. Microsoft is famous for being aggresive, but why isn't it showing teeth when it comes to IE?

Some speculate that Microsoft has set its sight on other things. Its video game venture has proved to be an applaudable success, pulling in millions each year. Its hardware sales —mice, keyboard, etc.— also proved to be another cash cow. IE was probably shown the backseat.

But rest assured it's far from dead. IE 8 is in the pipeline, and previews have been positive. It's said to be the most standard-compliant IE version yet.

As someone who once tried his hand at web design, I share their agony. You design your web page to appear a certain way, but once you open in IE it gets mangled. In IE, it looked slightly different. Earlier IE versions don't fully support CSS. Those of us who use CSS positioning to position things on our web pages had to work around the issue because if we don't IE would display the things out of place.

IE wasn't (and still isn't) a standards-compliant browser. The standards I'm talking about are the ones maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C. These standards include HTML, XHTML, CSS and DOM.The standards are very important because they allow the Internet to grow in a more guided direction. If there a more than one set of standards, the Internet be one massive chaotic mess. Browsers and website cannot understand each other. People will bite their own heads off.

I still use IE for testing purposes. If IE 8 is as good as they claim, I might use as often as I use Firefox and Opera. Other than these two, there are other Windows-based browsers worth checking out. Maxthon, like IE but way cooler (same same, but different.) Apple released its own browser, Safari, for Windows last year. Safari (the Mac version) is already known for being one of the best browsers around. And let's not forget about Flock, the so-called the social browser.

What's next for the browser scene? Possibly 3D browsers. But I think it would another a few years before they become mainstream.

In many other industries competition has waned down due to takeovers, mergers and a shrinking number of competitors. On the other hand, the competition between the Windows-based browser is just heating up. This is interesting because as I mentioned in the first part, these are free products going against each other. Revenues, at least direct ones, isn't a driving factor.

When a competition actually works, it can a beautiful thing. And as a user, I can certainly appreciate the beauty.


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