I was interested to see Microsoft announce the upcoming release of Internet Explorer 7 this week. I think they’re doomed (not the company, but the release/product). “Now with some security!” isn’t a great sales pitch.
Death of Microsoft predicted, film at eleven.
But wait, there’s hope for them yet. I know a way Microsoft could make IE7 an interesting, vibrant, active platform for development, taking back the lead the Firefox team has stolen from them (not in gross installations, yet, but certainly in momentum, press, mind share, and viability).
Here’s my idea: Microsoft, you should make IE7 support the Firefox extensions and themes. Then, you should (forgive the redundancy) extend the extension format to support other Microsoft products — on Windows only, naturally.
In my view, the Firefox browser has taken off for three primary reasons:
- The development team got it close enough to the IE interface that switching became nearly painless.
- The browser allows better control over web junk like pop-ups, and the Firefox team has marketed user control and security very well.
- The extension mechanism in the browser makes it very easy to write great extensions, and development of those extensions has exploded.
Microsoft can’t copy the first of these without copying itself, obviously. It can try to backfill on security and user control, but then it’s just we-said, they-said as to who is really more secure. The really new and interesting features going into Firefox are going in through extensions — but the UI to get them isn’t that great yet. If IE7 comes out supporting that body of code, and provides a better UI to get at it, all the benefits of those features will accrue to IE as well as Firefox. Wouldn’t it be great if every contribution to Firefox was also a contribution to IE?
To state it in the inverse — unless Microsoft adopts an extension mechanism or creates a more successful mechanism of its own, I can’t see them getting back momentum for this product. They stopped development of the browser after IE6 for a reason: their work was done. The question is now, who else can they get to work on the product for them?
Microsoft needs to open up the browser — not the source code, but APIs to make the browser sing. I think the best way would be by embracing the format already emerging, and doing something to make it more useful on Windows.
See, open source isn’t so scary after all. You just have to learn how to use it.