Okay, I’ll admit it at the risk of sounding uncool: I used to really like Internet Explorer. In order to set the stage, I’d really have to go back to around 1998. Back then, I was working in IT as a systems administrator, mostly managing servers and client machines. We always installed Netscape Navigator. At the time, it was all about Netscape 4.5. When IE was first released, it was barely functional. But it didn’t take long at all for the IE team to catch up and really overtake Netscape in terms of features.
But the main reasons I switched from Netscape to IE really had to do with who was really driving innovation: IE had begun to support modern CSS specifications long before Netscape. And as I started to develop websites and web applications for internal usage, I found IE to be much more predictable in terms of how it would render pages. And as much as people want to bash on Microsoft for embedding IE into Windows, they really did have a better browser for a while. The rendering engine was smooth, it was predictable (even if it was quirky sometimes), and it was easier to take advantage of newer HTML and CSS specs in IE than Netscape.
IE 5.0 was bumpy, 5.5 was pretty good. 6.0 lasted longer on the market than it should’ve, and suddenly 7.0 was more like a “catch-up” release. Clearly Microsoft got complacent. They knew they had more than 90% of the browser market, so why bother to invest anymore? And in the beginning, as much as I was impressed with FireFox, it still felt a little unfinished compared to IE.
But now it’s easy to see that the tide is turning. IE has gradually lost market share to FireFox. And it’s history repeating itself in reverse: FireFox is driving innovation forward in the browser market much faster than Microsoft.
Microsoft is at least acting as if they intend to compete, but IE 8 is shaping up to be a pretty big disappointment compared to FireFox 3. The first thing you’ll notice when you update to FireFox 3 is that the UI looks different. And I’m sure you’re saying “well why does that really matter?”, but it actually does a lot. People tend to perceive software especially as being newer and better if it looks different, and clearly FireFox 3 looks different, but it also looks more polished and professional than any prior version.
Internet Explorer 8 looks the same as IE7 did, except now there are a lot of annoying integrations with Microsoft’s online communities/spaces. And yes, I am very excited to hear that IE8 will embrace standards more to-the-letter than any previous version of Internet Explorer. But the bottom line is: FireFox 3 is much faster than IE7 or 8, it looks much more polished, and it is damned stable compared to both IE7 and the current IE8 beta. I’m sure FireFox 3 will convince many more people to switch. I also believe as more enterprise software vendors start supporting FireFox on-par with Internet Explorer, we’ll see more widespread support of FireFox in the corporate world, which will certainly help drive more users to FireFox in the long run.
Switching for me was a gradual process. At first it was: I wanted to open a crapload (that’s a technical term) of browsing tabs. When I tried to do that using IE7, even on a system with 2gb of memory, it’d get flakey on me, and IE would sometimes bomb. But with FireFox, even with 2.0, I’d have 20 or more tabs open without any stability issues. Then I found plug-ins for FireFox that really changed my opinion. There are plug-ins and toolbars for Internet Explorer, but some are flakey, some are actually spyware, and most don’t really do much to make Internet Explorer more secure. So after a while, I found myself hardly ever opening Internet Explorer anymore. And clearly that’s been the trend for Internet Explorer: they are gradually losing market share.
Internet Explorer Usage, 1994 to 2008:
Plug-ins, having an active developer community, and being more transparent about their development plans have made FireFox all-around a better browser than Internet Explorer. It should be a lesson to anyone developing software: don’t become complacent, be transparent in your development plans, and foster an active developer environment.
My favorite FireFox plugins:
Are you an ex-Internet Explorer fanboy/girl and want to confess? Let me know in the comments!
Filed under: Consumer Web