Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Toying with IE 7.0

As you know, I'm a confirmed Firefox advocate and fan. I'm not planning on switching allegiances either. However, it's always good to look and see what the competition is doing. Besides, I'm going to end up using IE anyhow for silly things like connecting to Microsoft Update and, until they add better support for FF, Live Mail Beta (grrrr - how stupid do you have to be to release a product in the wild ignoring a browser that is being used by just over 10% of the web - and more in European countries?)

So, as the world knows, IE 7.0 Beta 2 came out yesterday. I'm downloading it as I type this, but I'm not committed to loading it. After it's initial release, the browser, while more secure, has had some problems which concerned me.

Amusingly, lots of the Microsoft folks are touting the new IE Add-ons page. I just took a look at it. The page is designed to make the user feel as if this were Microsoft's method of competing with Mozilla's Extension capabilities. Looking at the pages a little deeper than the home page, it became apparent that what Microsoft had done is struck a deal with CNET's Download page. Basically, when one looks at the products, one sees a search of all of CNET's Download.com page results for IE. That's nice and all, but 3 things:

  1. Many of these products are not IE exclusive (Download Managers, for instance)
  2. Many of the products are pretty large downloads
  3. Many of the products actually cost money
The extensions that Mozilla offers for Firefox are usually only compatible with Firefox because it's architecture is designed to be extensible and IE's is designed to be closed. To display products in such a way as to make them appear to be IE only (not acknowledging other browsers) is just silly marketing. I appreciate the fact that they struck a deal with CNET and that Microsoft is trying to promote it's own product, but to ignore browser compatibility is sort of underhanded, isn't it? Example: Internet Download Manager - under it's "Supported browsers" lists IE6 and IE7. Guess what? I just used Internet Download Manager on Firefox to get IE7, but it's not mentioned as a "Supported Browser". The company's website sure makes that clear. I wonder, will companies be satisfied with Microsoft short changing the capabilities of their products in order to promote it's own browser?

Firefox's extensions are usually pretty small (often just a couple of hundred kilobytes). In a broadband world this isn't really an issue for many of us. However, it just goes to demonstrate that what IE is promoting are not extensions, but full on products.

Firefox's extensions, to this date, do not cost money. True, many of the add-ons listed do not cost money either, but many more do. Why? Well, obviously, developers want to earn money for their time and effort and I don't hold that against them. Heck, I paid money for Internet Download Manager long ago. However, it flies in the face of open source development that Mozilla was founded on and that Microsoft fights on a variety of fronts (though, in a small number of cases has embraced).

My point? Despite their best marketing efforts, we still have a fundamental difference to the approach of the browser market. Through it's sharing of source code and it's extensibility Mozilla offers an open source approach that has to date brought a more secure browsing experience with added features and excited a community of developers around it. Microsoft is improving it's browser and most likely is playing catch up rather quickly. But it's development is focused on limiting customer interaction in the name of security (kind of like the U.S. government these days). In the end, I expect Mozilla's approach (if not their browser) to rule the day.

Meanwhile, I might have a go around with IE 7.0 and if so, will report back on my findings. Firefox will remain my browser of choice.

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