Browser Wars II, Interview with Spolsky

Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch published an interview with Joel Spolsky yesterday that should be interesting to those who are curious about Microsoft’s direction technologically. Will Longhorn really be as fantastic as some are saying? Are they betting too much on the rich client and not on the web? Interesting stuff.

His comments about Google are also interesting, as is a link provided to this article on a possible Google browser. I’m very curious where all this is going. There does seem that a new Internet Explorer browser is in the works right now. And, of course, FireFox is taking off. And then I hear about AOL considering creating another browser. Is this good or bad? It completely depends on how the game is played. Browser Wars I, Netscape vs Internet Explorer, had some very negative effects. As they continually tried to one-up the other they each added new features, but the features were different. Netscape would implement some feature, then IE would implement a similar feature, but what was incompatible with the other, and suddenly the web developer’s job became immensely harder. For those of you who don’t do web design you probably don’t realize what kind of effect this has. Get just about any good javascript reference published in the last few years, especially close to the end of Browser Wars I, and you’ll find that the writer’s had to do stuff like "the CSS background tag is available in Netscape 6 and IE 4," or "The behavior tag is available only in IE 5 for Windows (not Mac) and not at all in Netscape," etc. Annoying!

Now that IE has become ubiquitous you could forget about Netscape completely, which was kind of nice but not ideal. IE 6 was released in 2001. And since MS had no competitor, there was no reason to upgrade the browser. Why add features? But now that there is a threat on the horizon, good old "fear of competition" kicks in. Great...I hope.

So what will it take for Browser Wars II to be healthy? Follow closely the standard definitions of what XHTML, javascript, CSS precisely and start implement new kinds of markup according to their definitions. Don’t make your users choose a browser based on whether or not the page will render correctly. Make them choose because of the features of the browser. Then Browser Wars II will be a wonderful thing...

I am not a MS basher. I really like some of what they do. I love XP. I love .NET programming. But this is one that I really hope they lose. They’ve shown that without competition they won’t innovate in the browser arena. That’s just unacceptable.

I’m tempted to hope that new browsers won’t take some of the wind out of Firefox’s sails, just because I like it so much and want it to succeed. But, really, having several really good browsers that have wide acceptance will be very healthy for the industry (assuming they all behave nicely).


Kirk H. Sowell 2004-10-23 02:48:00

And speaking of Google, you may or may not have noticed - as I did from the Journal - that their stock is doing very well.