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Will IE8 Be Microsoft's Last Explorer?

Will IE8 Be Microsoft's Last Explorer?

Could the eighth edition of Microsoft Internet Explorer really be the last of its breed? That's the rumor, anyway. The prospect has some in the FOSS community excited and eager to bid the browser a fond good riddance, though others see it as just another ploy to get trust busters off Redmond's back.

By Katherine Noyes
03/16/09 4:00 AM PT

There are few things more exciting to a journalist than being among the first to report important news, and we here at LinuxInsider are no exception. So it was with great glee that we learned of recent rumors that Internet Explorer 8 could be the end of the line.

Special thanks to Slashdot blogger hairyfeet for calling them to our attention!

Yes, there were several such reports circulating on the virtual grapevine in recent days, including Randall Kennedy's post at InfoWorld, Scott Fulton's post at Beta News, iAurora's post at JCXP and others.

It's not yet clear what Microsoft's replacement for IE will be -- Microsoft's apparently not talking, one way or the other -- but WebKit and a brand-new engine dubbed "Gazelle" are said to be the top contenders.

IE6 Left in the Dust

Now, news on the doings in Redmond is almost always of at least some interest to those in the FOSS community, but this news was particularly interesting given the ongoing browser wars between Explorer and our beloved Firefox.

Just the other day, in fact, a report was released by StatCounter indicating that Firefox 3 recently became the first non-Microsoft browser to overtake Internet Explorer 6 in market share. Not only that, but it's threatening IE7 too, the report suggested.

"Me (webdeveloper) happy," wrote munikho on Digg, where the news garnered close to 2,000 Diggs and more than 350 comments.

"Good Riddance to IE6," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. "It's a travesty that needs to be dropped off the Web as soon as possible."

'Excellent Extension System'

Firefox has also done several things right -- in particular, its "excellent extension system," hairyfeet told LinuxInsider.

"I have several customers that are always 'cutting edge,' and while they tried IE7/* as well as Safari and Chrome, they always come back to FF in short order," hairyfeet explained. "Why? For the same reason my 67-year-old father, who knows nothing about technology, refuses to use any browser other than FF3 -- the ease of the FF3 extension system allowed him to customize the browser to HIS needs instead of simply taking the Web as given by IE and the others."

That's why Chrome is working to add its own extension framework, hairyfeet added, "though frankly I think it will be a case of too little too late, as there is a robust developer network surrounding the FF extension network that -- even with their money -- Google simply won't be able to match. It is simply too rich and varied to replicate," he said.

'The Operating System Is Next'

"I like to use Beagle and Firefox," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. "In GNU/Linux we have choice, thank goodness. Consumers enjoy choice and are waking up to the fact that they have choices. The operating system is next."

Of course, speaking of operating systems, it was already revealed earlier this month that Windows 7 will make it possible for users to "unplug" IE and other components. But to now learn that IE8 itself is being unplugged permanently, and replaced by something else? The possibilities are simply mind-boggling.

'Truly Wonderful News'

"For Linux users this will be truly wonderful news, as the reason why many Web pages don't work correctly to this day on Linux is IE and their hobbled page designs," hairyfeet asserted.

"I think the big work cut out for Linux next will be replacing the Windows Server/Sharepoint/Exchange stack," he said. "Because like it or not, that combo makes integration and policy management of Windows clients beyond easy. I have gone over to friends that manage Linux servers and seen their solutions, and frankly nothing I have seen so far is even close to that combo for ease of use."

Linux has already won users who embrace freedom "along with the self-proclaimed nerds," hairyfeet noted. What it needs now "is a way to get John Q. Public to use it, and I still believe that way is through the office," he said. "If you are paid to use it at work, you will want to use it at home.

"I know many home users that in 2009 STILL insist that any machine I build them has Win2K pro on it," he added. "Why? Because that is what they use at their workplace."

'Some New Ploy'

If IE8 really is Microsoft's last release, "it would be a good thing," Pogson agreed.

"Unfortunately, M$ integrated IE into Lose '95 deliberately to mess with competition, so I cannot see them turning over a new leaf at this late date and getting out of the messing-with-competition business," Pogson asserted. "Whatever they are planning will be simply some contortion to seem to be complying with EU and other directives while creating some new ploy."

Microsoft is "so big that they can delay justice while billions more are dumped on them," he added. "They may rename it or come up with a different technology, but I cannot see them ever playing well with the Web. They will lever their monopoly until it is gone in a few years."

Once a Stick, Now a 'Schtick'

IE has become "schtick," Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. "It used to be a stick."

Specifically, Microsoft used that stick to "effectively beat down the browser market," yagu explained. "DOJ [Department of Justice] and markets rallied, and we have a more level and balanced browser market."

Now Microsoft is likely not so much ceding the browser competition as shrugging it off, he added. "It isn't 'where the money is' anymore. Microsoft knows IE gives them little of the leverage they want and need to stay relevant."

'One of My Biggest Headaches'

With its "entrenched, huge monopoly," Microsoft succeeds today mostly through momentum, yagu said. Now, it's looking for a way "to re-establish dominance before that momentum slows.

"They are trying to be a search engine, irrelevantly," he noted. "They are trying to bring online Office (more than a step or two behind Google), irrelevantly. They are in the gaming business, but losing money. They are in 'the music bidnez,' irrelevantly."

It remains to be seen if Microsoft figures out "how they get back on track," yagu said.

"One thing they do seem to have recognized is that IE isn't the killer app anymore, and it isn't worth tons of their time and attention anymore," he concluded. "I won't miss IE if it goes away; both as a user and as a developer, it's been one of my biggest headaches."

Do you have suggestions for bloggable topics worthy of coverage in the Linux Blog Safari? If so, please leave them in the comments. Geeks the world over will thank you -- and so will we.


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