Internet Explorer and the diminishing Windows support

With the first release of IE10, and officially stating it won’t support Windows Vista, it gets me thinking.

Where we are – support and OS market share

Windows chose not to support Windows XP users with IE9, although Windows XP currently has a staggering 54% of the operating system market share. Amongst many things, this led to the HTML5 for XP initiative, since all other web browsers think Windows XP users deserve a right to be able to experience HTML5.

And now Microsoft has decided to not support Windows Vista with IE10, and will only support Windows 7. Windows Vista has 10% of the OS market share, which gives a total sum of 64% of the operating system market share in the world that Microsoft will not support with modern versions of Internet Explorer.

I recently attended Microsoft’s MIX conference, but in the slides there and talking about IE10, they were only showing operating system market share in the US (which naturally is a completely different number). I do hope that they keep paying attention the worldwide number, and that that was just for the context-specific presentation.

Microsoft’s arguments

Microsoft’s comment on this is:

…continuing to drive the kind of innovation that only happens when you take advantage of the ongoing improvements in modern operating systems and modern hardware.

I’ve heard similar sentiments from a number of directions from Microsoft, that the focus is to basically build for the latest to utilize what’s available there. My guess is that they have gotten tired of spending time on backwards compatibility, and generally want only one version of Internet Explorer.

While I understand their objectives, I think they are missing two major things:

Everything doesn’t have to be eye-candy

The implication I get from Microsoft’s statements and seeing the keynote at MIX, is that everything in HTML5 is eye-candy. You throw in canvas, SVG, video and what have you not, combined with CSS transitions and transforms (preferably 3D), and then you get an HTML5 page. The thing is, though, HTML5 is so much more than that.

Looking at semantic elements, History API, File API, offline applications, custom data attributes etc etc. Lots of things that can improve web pages and the user experience, thing that will help most regular web sites who won’t be developing canvas-svg-video games all the time. I believe these users deserve to be able to take part of the HTML5 experience, and if their performance experience doesn’t match that of Windows 7, I still think it’s valuable to them and that they will be just fine with the experience they are getting.

Not everyone will, or can, upgrade

I do understand that it is in Microsoft’s interest to sell Windows – they are a money-making company, it’s one of their products they do make money from and I have full respect for that. However, it’s not as simple as “just upgrade”. One of the thing is costs: getting licenses for a new version, and possibly needed hardware too, will cost good money, and if you are, for instance, in a poor region or in a multinational company with several hundreds of thousands of employees, that’s a cost that doesn’t always make sense (or is even possible). And for many home users, the cost will far exceed the benefits of an upgrade.

The other part is about incentive. Personally, I have a hard time seeing anyone update their operating system just to get a newer version of Internet Explorer – especially when all the competitors are available on the other main operating systems provided by Microsoft. Sure, if they have other reasons to upgrade and deem it worth the cost, but only for a new, albeit faster, web browser version? I don’t think so, at least.

What are your thoughts?

I have a great respect for the improvements Microsoft are making with Internet Explorer, both in performance and improved web standards support. However, I can’t decide if this is a really bold move that might pay off, or if it’s completely overestimating the possible results.

And, I am very curious: what are your thoughts on this?

Posted in Developing,HTML5/HTML/XHTML,Technology,Web browsers |

20 Comments

  • @webade says:

    It does make me rather scared. If Microsoft suddenly ramp up the number of releases, to say 2 a year, but each subsequent release only works on the most recent Windows Operating system, then as a developer I am not only going to have to have access to several IE versions, but also several Windows versions to test them all on. That’s a huge fragmentation issue.

    Why can’t we have a version of IE10 which enables/disables the hardware heavy stuff for those users on older versions of Windows in a progressive enhancement style?

  • It all like the Batman & Joker story! #flick

    Recently, i have attended two webcast on IE9 (here in India)
    There they have showcased IE9 from a developer perspective (dev toolbar).

    IE9 also not fully support the CSS3.

    But at the same time, it was also mentioned in webcast that IE10 had been showcased in MIX. And that made me really surprise… as M.S. now started gearing themselves for selling IE10 for may be …Windows8!

    Every time when the latest browser is compared, it been said it is better than previous : )

    I got to know about
    the comparing table of IE10 with latest version of FF, Opera, Safari, Chrome and IE9 too ;)
    http://samples.msdn.microsoft.com/ietestcenter/

    May be i have some little knowledge, but this what I have to say on this.

  • David Bruant says:

    I have recently been at the Bordeaux JUG (Java User Group) where someone presented the framework called “Play!”. Long story short, this Ruby-on-Rails inspired framework captures some ideas of the web as RoR do, like being able to return different content-type, MVC pattern, Routes to have nice URLs, very small session (if any) on the server-side.
    I consider all these things as normal. But the fact that the guy presented these things as new in the Java world made me realize that people have a different culture and view of the web as I do. Some Java folks would say that I am “client-side focused”. I would prefer to say that I acknowledge that there are two sides for a web application and that the client-side is not only an HTML displayer.
    Our backgrounds make us see the web differently.

    I am under the impression that Microsoft has a different culture than the Java folks and a different culture than “us”. By “us”, I mean, “people who care about the web for itself and not as a side-effect of something else (a software output for some Java folks / something run on a web browser of a particular operating system)”.
    We consider that the web is “data that people exchange”. Consequently, we care about accessibility, we care about platform independence, because we consider that data shouldn’t depend on where/how it is retrieved.
    Mozilla, Google and Opera care about providing ways for people to “exchange data”, that this data is accessible in mobiles, tablet, any broadly used OS… I have seen tweets from some Mozilla folks saying that FF4 on Android was as important (if not more) as the FF1 release.

    Microsoft seems to have a very different culture of the web. They want to offer an experience bound with Windows. That is the reason why IE6 was tight to Windows XP. That’s the reason why they had their proprietary extensions and didn’t consider standardization. My impression is that the web grew without them. They’re catching up on the technology, but they have kept their culture. So they consider that doing multi-platform is a waste of time. We care about browser version market share to make sure we (web devs) don’t leave people aside, they care about Windows market share.
    Fortunately, their extensions and specificities now occur outside the web platform, so being a web developer is going to be increasingly fun.
    If we, “web people” sort of say, consider that a “native” web application is a nonsense, I can understand it captures some sense in their culture of the web where they want to provide a rich experience. “native” in their context seems to mean “feels like a desktop application and not something enclosed in a particular application (with back/forward/home buttons and an address bar)”

    They can catch up as much as they want on the technology, there will always be a misunderstanding unless they understand what I would call the “web culture” and start aligning with it.

  • mdmadph says:

    My thoughts are that Microsoft can continue doing whatever they want to — the world might be going another way. :\

    I work for a huge organization — 10’s of thousands of users. We’re just now moving away from IE6. I imagine our situation is the same as a lot of companies out there. We’re not moving to Windows 7 — that’s another problem. We’re sticking with XP probably until 2018, at least (since MS will support it through 2020).

    What’s been the result of Microsoft’s increasingly fast release schedule? Well, apparently the management over me is quickly getting the feeling that they and other WinXP shops are getting “left behind,” like you say, and because of that, for the first time ever… we’re beginning to test with Firefox 4, officially. There’s been talk of it becoming our main testing basis.

    My org testing things to make sure they work with Firefox was something that, years ago, I thought was impossible. And now MS has made it happen!

  • Jeff L says:

    I think MS is finally doing what Apple does. When Apple releases a new version of Safari, you need to be on a somewhat recent version of their OS in order to install it. 10.5.8 or newer. I’m amazed that the other browsers ARE still supporting XP.

    You want the latest HTML goodness? You can’t be using a 10 year old operating system!

  • Jos Hirth says:

    I kinda like that they undermine their market share. There is a strong downward trend (62% -> 45% during the last 2 years) and they apparently do everything to accelerate it even further. Thanks a lot for that.

    The big takeaway is something entirely different though. Telling IE6 users to upgrade to IE8 was apparently a big mistake. Everyone should have pushed the alternative more modern browsers instead.

    They also didn’t do anything to improve the update rate of IE9+ users. It will probably also stick around for about 6 years. That’s just awful.

  • Asa Dotzler says:

    I think several things are going on with Microsoft here.

    1) Hardware acceleration ads complexity that browsers haven’t had to deal much with in the past.

    It is a big challenge that Microsoft doesn’t want to tackle fully. If they can restrict their concerns to just “recent hardware” on “latest OS version” with “latest drivers” they cut down the problem space dramatically.

    2) Microsoft wants to differentiate itself from other browsers with more OS integration — things like taskbar pinning, jumplist exposure to Web developers, etc. (We can expect a lot more of this in upcoming IE releases.) These features require either a newer than XP version of the OS or modifications to the OS (something they’re not going to do for EOL’d XP.) OS integration is the one thing Microsoft thinks it can do better than the other vendors and they can’t do it well on XP so eliminating XP makes sense in that view.

    3) Microsoft realizes that the Web platform (via Web browsers and Web runtimes in other apps) is the future of computing and it wants to make IE (and the Microsoft version of the “Web Platform”) a selling point for new OS versions. If they continue to push IE out to older OS versions, they undermine new Windows versions. Killing XP support and now Vista support makes Windows 7 the next legacy platform and sets them up for a Windows 8 “the first Native HTML5 OS” launch.

    So, from Microsoft point of view, this is probably a no-brainer. Now, is it good for the world? Absolutely not. Being good for the world is not Microsoft’s business though. Thank goodness we have Mozilla whose job is to be good for the world.

    – A

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Great comments!

    @webade,

    I agree that the fragmentation will indeed be very hard to handle, and I’d like to see a version that works but with just the bells and whistles turned off for older operating system versions.

    Gaurav,

    Regarding the test, I haven’t delved into it, but there are a number of tests out there with varying results- It’s all about what you want to test. Compare the results for the above test with HTML5 Test or Is IE9 a modern browser?, for instance.

    David,

    Very interesting thoughts!
    I do agree about having Firefox on Android was very important, and I hope that continues to pan out well.

    About Microsoft and culture, I believe it’s very true. Their objective is very different from the one of Mozilla, Google and Opera, and I’d say much more in line with Apple’s.

    It will be interesting to see how that will affect the end result, meaning with very different goals, if you can still achieve the best option for end users. Technology is only one aspect.

    mdmadph,

    Absolutely, and I wonder if Microsoft really take organizations like yours in mind. Interesting about Firefox 4!

    Jeff,

    It is very much like Apple, I think. However, it’s my belief that you will want your users to be able to use their operating system/device they want to access the web, and since every other web browser indeed can offer an HTML5 experience on XP, I’m sure Microsoft could too.

    Jos,

    Yes, thinking of that is awful, but maybe, like you say, the market share will be undermined enough.

    Asa,

    All very good points! It makes general business-sense in terms of selling more and newer operating systems, and I think the OS integration argument is a very interesting one.

    And sure, Microsoft is about money and selling operating systems.

    However, I just wonder how this will play out, if people will upgrade or if IE’s market share will drastically decrease in favor of other web browsers.

  • Hi to you all,

    I can’t really say I’m shocked with that decision, after all it is a business for them. The same with Apple. And Apple gets away with so much more. “Just get a new one” it’s really not a problem solver…

    Today we see more developers than we saw 10years ago. The new fresh generation, has new fresh hardware (with new OS) where they have fun (hopefully) developing and creating amazing stuff! And it starts to be a bummer to have legacy.
    Look at my iPhone 3G. Apple had at that time 5 pieces of hardware to test on and somehow they made the latest iOS incredibly slow on it, to the point of being completely unusable! My guess, “just get a new one”. And it seems that MS is going that way as well.

    It’s awful to “ignore” the old and the slow, but the pack does gets stronger and faster (or in this case, creates the environment for faster innovation? ). All the cool demos of HTML5 API’s mashups and beautiful animation galore, simply *kills* my >3y laptop. Those are demos, true, but I start to find webpages that are “heavy” to render: scrolling is slow, is not about loading times, it’s about having to render the page as I progress on it, and for me that just shows how things are moving.
    I agree, HTML5 is not all about eye-candy, true, but for non IT users, they don’t know in what flavor their cute kittens are being served.

    I don’t know if “IE’s market share will drastically decrease in favor of other web browsers”, but every time we hack we let old smelly versions of IE stay a bit longer. We humans are as lazy as it gets, we only take action if we have to. If tomorrow icanhascheezburger.com and farmville/cityville/villeville puts a notice that to play/view the user HAS to change to IE9 | Firefox | Chrome | Safari | Opera, HTML5 would “be here” in a week! Without having to drop WinXP, buy new hardware or sell the soul to the devil.

  • Chris Marsh says:

    Just when you thought MS couldn’t make any more of a mess… I really like the fact that MS were releasing newer and better versions of IE, and I think it’s a big move forward, but surely any big organisation who is considering upgrading their browser will, as other commenters have said, not necessarily consider upgrading their OS.

    Other browser makers must be rubbing their hands in glee, as those companies who are looking to upgrade will start looking in other directions, at browsers that do run on Windows XP.

    Great post!

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Pedro,

    Having an iPhone 3G I know exactly what you are talking about…
    It’s an interesting angle, and I believe that popular web services on the web could drive web browser adoption rate. However, I believe automatic updates would tend to that too, but with such a move from Microsoft, that becomes impossible.

    Chris,

    Thank you!
    And yes, I have a hard time seeing how organizations will deem an operating system upgrade an option just for a later web version of the web browser.

  • mdmadph says:

    Okay, maybe 2018 was a bit ridiculous. :p I can definitely see us continuing to use it for another few years, at least. :P

  • Peter da Silva says:

    My thought is – the biggest competition for Windows Seven is people who are happy with Windows XP. And everything Microsoft does is in support of selling copies of Windows. Everything.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    mdmadph,

    Well, you never know… :-)

    Peter,

    Absolutely, I believe a lot of people will continue to use Windows XP and won’t be interested in upgrading.

  • Carl Camera says:

    I disagree. Everyone will upgrade. Everyone upgraded from Windows 3.1. Everyone upgraded from Windows NT. Everyone upgraded from Windows 98. Everyone upgraded from Windows 2000. Folks are upgrading from Vista. Windows 7 has near 100% backwards compatibility with XP applications, Virtual PC support and XP Mode to run the 1% that need it, and XP Mode for IE6. And if you want to run IE9 then you must upgrade. Microsoft has developed both sticks and carrots to move folks to Win7. I think 2011 will see a big leap in corporate adoption.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Carl,

    Maybe. Although I know about lots of corporations on Windows XP and older, who are happy with what they have and an upgrade would cost tons of money and time.

    And to update the operating system just to get a new web browser, I think they’d rather use another web browser.

  • Richard Fink says:

    I’m puzzled by Microsoft’s approach. If Chrome Frame works – and I haven’t tested it myself but by all accounts it does – then Microsoft has no basis for denying the bulk of the HTML5 “experience” to XP users on technical grounds. It’s been proved bogus.
    Using IE as an enticement to upgrade is silliness. *Of course* businesses are going to switch to another browser in an effort to at least postpone the costs of moving to Win7. After all, what’s the downside? Operating systems are rapidly becoming little more than dumb terminals for the web – anything that runs a browser will do.
    And Firefox or Chrome or whatever those customers switch to will run just fine when the day comes that they absolutely must upgrade to Win7 (or whatever Windows comes after that).
    I further believe there’s a moral obligation on Microsoft’s part (stop laughing, I’m not joking) to provide a version of IE9 for XP.
    What their strategy is, I can’t figure out. But it’s being pursued at the expense of Windows users who know no browser but Internet Explorer.
    I don’t understand what MS gets out of driving their customers to switch to another browser. To stay competitive, Windows needs desperately to be the best dumb terminal it can be.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Richard,

    Interesting thoughts!
    Morally we’re definitely on the same page. I’m guessing that Microsoft focus so hard on just welling Windows, though, and that development costs could go down with just one operating system version to support.

    But yes, of course customers could get a very HTML experience, through other web browsers, on older operating systems as well.

  • Kevin N. Weinhold says:

    I think it is clear that Microsoft is writing itself out of the browser business. A software company can lead the business and government world to a degree, but ultimately, the businesses and government are going to decide where they spend their money. It won’t be for the latest and greatest software technology, it will be for software that lets them spend their money elsewhere. This will especially be true with the economic slowdown and the giant cutbacks on government agency budgets.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Kevin,

    Good points. Yes, it’s a risky game game for Microsoft, and factors like that could definitely prove to be a problem for them.

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