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.