Microsoft Cutting Back On IE?

Asa pointed out an interesting CNBC piece regarding cutbacks in what looks like contractors on the IE team:

One of the units already seeing cutbacks is Microsoft’s sagging browser business. A report in the Seattle Times says 180 contract workers were told last month that their services would not be renewed. Just yesterday, researcher Net Applications reported that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser registered 68 percent market share in December, down from 74 percent in May.

If this is true, and I think it is likely as CNBC is a rather reputable source of business news, I predict Trident’s days are numbered. As I pointed out back in November, Balmer suggested they might look at WebKit. I should note I do not think this will have any impact on IE 8, which is nearly complete. They could of course choose Gecko which would save them from needing to work with Google and Apple (which might freak out some government regulators).

The other very real option is to either license Opera’s Presto engine, or simply buy Opera which would give them some strength in the mobile market. I think Microsoft would prefer to buy simply because of the mobile implications. Opera has a decent foothold in the mobile market. They would still have the expense of developing a rendering engine but instead of playing catch up they would be much more “ready to play”. This would save them the overhead expenses of trying to cram several years of development to simply catch up to the other browsers. Since Presto is proprietary they still can utilize their other proprietary technologies without leaking any code to the open source community. As I said in the past, keeping things proprietary is important to Microsoft’s web strategy.

Poor standards compliant, performance, bugs lingering for years, security issues, are all issues that have plagued this rendering engine. The final nail in the coffin might end up being a recession and the need to cut costs.

Of course it’s possible Microsoft may not be renewing these contractors since IE 8 is nearly done and it will simply slow down IE 9 development, but I don’t think it’s likely considering the speed the competitors are going. I don’t think Microsoft will fall asleep at the wheel a second time.

So I’d like to adjust my statements back in November regarding Microsoft’s use of WebKit. I said before that it was unlikely. If this news is true, I think it’s becomes very realistic they will drop Trident. Maybe it really is as busted internally as we’ve all suspected for years.

There will still be fierce competition between WebKit, Gecko, and Presto regardless of what happens. Innovation and competition are essential to a healthy internet. This in fact makes it much more competitive since the one in last place in terms of supporting the latest in standards would suddenly catch up overnight.

Enough speculation for now. Lets see what turns out to be fact, and what turns out to be CompSci Fiction.

Edit [1/3/2009 @ 9:40 PM EST]:: Via Asa, apparently the layoffs were actually the MSN Homepages team, not the IE team as CNBC suggested.

Acid3

The Acid3 test is out. Ironic that this one comes towards the end of a Gecko development cycle (just like Acid2), meaning it will likely be a while (Mozilla2, the basis of what will likely be Firefox 4.0) until Acid3 compliance is met.

Seems like the WebKit guys are well on their way.

By the time Acid3 complaint browsers are the norm, web applications will have a very nice platform of features that they can depend on. These tests really do help coordinate browser vendors to focus on certain issues by providing a good test case that they can all compare (and compete) against.

Apple’s API Advantage

Vlad wrote about his work on improving Mac OS X performance (which is awesome by the way), and his findings from looking at WebKit code. To summarize WebKit utilizes some undocumented API’s (ironically from the same company that makes Mac OS X :-? ) that give it an advantage over other software which can’t use them. This is pretty anti-competitive, and Microsoft-like in behavior. For a company that built it’s modern OS on an open source core, and it’s flagship browser (which is key to their mobile initiative) on an open source rendering engine (KHTML), you would think they would be a little more understanding about crippling platforms. Then again, look at the iPhone controversy regarding it being a closed platform (though that’s supposed to change next week, and I’ll be sure to blog about that).

Robert O’Callahan’s got a got a great blog post on some of his observations of things Mozilla would likely make good use of. He also mentions one thing worth quoting:

It’s worth reflecting that if Microsoft was doing this, they’d likely be hauled before a judge, in the EU if not the US. In fact I can’t recall Microsoft ever pulling off an undocumented-API-fest of this magnitude.

This is a very valid point which I 100% agree with. Microsoft wouldn’t get away with this.

Safari developer David Hyatt (former Mozilla developer from when Lizards roamed the earth) commented about this issue. Essentially he justifies the decision based on it not being a good practice to use some of these methods, and other aren’t even used anymore. This of course raises the question: Should Apple be deciding what other software developers can do, when they themselves can’t follow the same standards? I’d say that if WebKit feels it has to use it, there’s likely others out there in the same situation regardless of “best practice”.

See, I’m not too much of an Apple fanboy to criticize them ;-) .

Benchmarking And Testing Browsers

When people talk about open source they often talk about the products, not the process. That’s not really a bad thing (it is after all about the product), but it overlooks some really interesting things sometimes. For example open source tools used in open development.

A few months ago Jesse Ruderman introduced jsfunfuzz, which is a tool for fuzz testing the js engine in Firefox. It turned up 280 bugs (many already fixed). Because the tool itself is not horded behind a firewall it’s also helped identify several Safari and Opera bugs. It’s a pretty cool way to find some bugs.

The WebKit team has now released SunSpider a javascript benchmarking tool. Something tells me this will lead to some performance improvements in everyone’s engine. How much will be done for Firefox 3.0 is a little questionable considering beta 2 is nearing release, though you never know. There’s been some nice work on removing allocations recently. So just because it’s beta, you can’t always assume fixes will be minor in scope.

Another test that many are familiar with is Acid 2 which essentially is checking CSS support among browsers. Ironically this one too was released when Gecko is somewhat late in the development cycle.

Efforts like this really help web development by allowing browser developers to have a baseline to compare their strengths and weaknesses. Having a little healthy competition as motivation can be pretty helpful too ;-) .

Google For iPhone

There’s been a lot of talk today about Google’s launch of it’s services optimized for the iPhone.

It got me thinking. Is it really about the iPhone? Or is it about mobile standards based browsers (WebKit in particular). What I’m talking about is Android, who coincidentally also uses WebKit. Call be crazy, but Google’s launch of this offering isn’t really about riding the iPhone’s popularity. It’s about being in that new mobile space. You might even say this is being tested on the iPhone, before Android comes around. No longer is mobile limited by a basic WAP deck. This one uses the same technology the rest of the web uses, only designed to look and function well on a small screen by people with giant clumsy fingers.

This space isn’t limited to just WebKit. Gecko has made some headway into the market (mainly via Nokia devices), and is preparing to make a big effort in the near future to bring Firefox Mobile to your phone. Most iPhone sites look pretty decent in Firefox already, the main thing that makes some of them look a little funny is a css property or two it doesn’t support, for example -webkit-border-image which has become pretty popular for sites only targeting WebKit since it’s pretty handy. Some sites also use -webkit-border-radius, which is supported on Firefox, as -moz-border-radius both of which follow the border-radius specs as part of CSS3, but are still namespaced for the moment.

For once we don’t have to learn another silly markup, and be limited by lack of JavaScript which has made the web a better place… for the most part (think Gmail, Google Maps, etc.).

It’s some very cool stuff. I’m really interested to see what comes.

Camino 1.5

Camino 1.5 is out. It’s a great product for Mac users. Lets face it, the best browsers are on the Mac right now. Camino, Firefox, Safari, Shiira, and OmniWeb. All provide an excellent user experience. Camino is a great balance between the Gecko rendering engine (which has the benefit of extra market share thanks to it’s cross platform nature and sibling Firefox’s efforts) and a smooth UI. The obvious downside being the lack of extensions.

“Right before the tinderboxen go up in flames”

Best Quote I’ve read in the Mozilla community for some time:

Famous Last Words
OK, I have landed one half of the Aviary Branch. (the browser half). This may cause some difficulty and problems with the build/nightly build machines. I swear it all built on my machine. I am going to proceed with merging the other half tomorrow. Please bear with me.
- Ben Goodger, right before the tinderboxen go up in flames

- Hendikins

I got a good chuckle out of reading that.

w.bloggar 4.0, now with Gecko

w.bloggar 4.0 RC2 is out, my favorite Windows blogging tool. So much simpler than using the web interfaces for small posts. Some great new things:

WordPress support
Multiple Categories Support
XHTML friendly tags (option)
Edit Templates
“More” Feature has it’s own Tab

The sweetest feature is using Adam Lock’s Mozilla ActiveX Control… still to come. But I can’t wait to check it out.

Mozilla looses an embedder

appMac, creator of wkiosk, announced a new version. This new version uses Apple Safari HTML engine, and is a free upgrade for customers of wKiosk 2. Version 2.2 is still available, and uses Gecko.

Wonder why they switched?

One should note it requires 10.3. So perhaps, they are utilizing the smaller package (no need to install WebCore, as it’s ships with 10.3). Unlike Gecko, which has to be included.