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.

A Standards Based Future

I wrote a few weeks ago about Microsoft’s plan to require a meta tag to use standards mode rendering in IE8. There was a ton of backlash. I can’t remember the last time so many browser and web developers publicly spoke out so quickly on an issue. It was pretty obvious to everyone that it wasn’t a good thing for the web.

Microsoft has had a change of heart, and will now use the new standards mode by default, and an IE7 compatibility mode via a meta tag. This is a much better move as it will mean more rapid adoption of standards. The point in which we will be able to develop on a more level playing field moved much closer thanks to this move.

As everyone around the web is noticing, this little nugget in the press release is pretty interesting:

“While we do not believe there are currently any legal requirements that would dictate which rendering mode must be chosen as the default for a given browser, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue,? said Brad Smith, Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel.

Most seem to think that’s a reference to Opera’s antitrust complaint with the EU. I would agree.

Go Standards Campaign?

I wonder if it’s worth some sort of cross-vendor campaign (Mozilla, Microsoft, Opera, WebKit/Apple) to get users to adopt modern browsers in a much more rapid pace. IE6 is hanging around for much longer than one would like. I suspect IE 8’s adoption won’t be very quick either. Perhaps it’s necessary for it to be combined with a GoPHP5 style campaign where older browsers are unsupported as of an arbitrary date. While Microsoft may have some obligation to provide security patches until the apocalypse, there’s no reason why websites must support it.

This is of course hard to implement as nobody wants to jump on this train unless all their competitors join in. It would take coordination on the level of Google, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Amazon, Adobe sized sites. Odds of something like that working are <5%, but I could be wrong. As a web developer dropping IE6 is a dream I can’t wait to see happen. It would however be interesting to see what innovation would take place if browser support suddenly became much more level.

Give Us Milestone Builds

It would be nice if Microsoft would start shipping milestone builds in a somewhat regular interval (weekly, monthly) so that developers can constantly test and evaluate how their websites behave in IE 8. It would be nice to know up front what we are looking at. Of course this is best when your bug database is open, but even when it’s closed, it’s still helpful to know where you stand at all times. I regularly test websites I work on in WebKit, Opera, Firefox nightlies. Why do I do this? So I know exactly what’s coming. So I can track issues I may have to fix, or the vendor may need to fix. I also can make a time estimate on how long it will take until I’m ready for browser x. Generally with those browsers the time estimate hovers around 0. Every so often an issue worth looking into arises.

I think this would really help the web ease into a fully standards world.

The new generation of browsers including Firefox 3 and IE 8 are really shaping up.