Posted by: kurtsh | January 3, 2006

COMMENTARY: And you think YOU were ticked about IE’s stale evolution?

I think I’ve mentioned this before to various people that have told me, "I use Firefox because you guys are lazy and refuse to update Internet Explorer!"
…as you can see, even our internal employees, who frankly don’t often know the whole story behind how things go at Microsoft, complain bitterly about this stuff.
The bottom line is that WE (as in myself and my constituents) want Internet Explorer evolved as well.  WE would like to see various changes and features implemented.  WE would love nothing more than to have IE kick ass over our competition.  But let’s be clear one important thing:  Microsoft has to deal with something regarding product development that doesn’t really hinder our competitors to the same degree… LAWSUITS.
Every time you think to yourself, "DAMMIT – why hasn’t Microsofti implemented feature X?  They’re just sitting on their money pile doin’ nuthin… damned monopoly!"  try remembering the following.  In order for an improvement to be made, the feature must be:
No one can accuse us to doing something bad to the market if we simply improve a product’s speed or it’s stability.  This is the reason that improvements between point-releases are so ‘speed’ and ‘stability’ related. 
Anything that protects the public or serves the public’s best interests really can’t be argued against.  We we able to incorporate cookie blocking into Internet Explorer because even though there were a variety of cookie-blocking add-ons available for IE and Windows, the improvement was made in the best interests of our customers security and we would have a strong base to stand on against any developer of a ‘cookie-blocking’ tool that claimed, "Microsoft is killing my business by incorporating a cookie blocker!"  We couldn’t do the same thing for Pop-up Blocking for the longest time (until IE 6.02) because pop-ups aren’t security related but rather just an annoyance.
If a competitor has incorporated a feature into their product, we can do the same under the auspices of "being competitive".  This means that for ticky-tack features, we’re likely always going to be behind.  For example, tabbed browsing… we had to wait until someone incorporated it into their product.  Another example:  When Pop-up Blocking became a stock feature of Firefox and Opera, we were able to incorporate it into IE 6.02.
So wait:  Why is it that Internet Explorer 7.0 is taking so long?  Why hasn’t Microsoft cranked out improvements to it’s browser now that Firefox, Opera, and Netscape have released richer solutions?
Here’s a few of the many reasons:
The much-publicized new development process that Microsoft follows ensures that products are developed without the infamous security holes and buffer overflows that have plagued Microsoft in the past.  Internet Explorer 7.0 is no exception.  What makes this product release so special however is that it’s being developed from the ground up with this process, and while IE 6.0 code is being used, it’s being processed through the same filters that new code is using.  (Part of the process is a newly created computer-driven analysis filter that examines all submitted code and virtually eliminates the possibility of traditional buffer overflows.
All code has to be throughly documented.  Gone are the days of undocumented features like "easter eggs" and other fun stuff.  Microsoft is from what I understand tasked to ensure that every interface is documented and every feature is explained to comply to various regulations that I frankly don’t know much about.  All I know is that stuff exists that make documentation very important.
This one is huge:  All products have to be ported to 26 different languages and more importantly, modularly switchable between 26 different languages for all aspects of the product – including the menus and the help system.  People literally have to be able to change the interfaces for the product from English to Japanese on the fly.   In the case, of Internet Explorer, we also have to support various language character sets in the content of the browser which is big fun.
The product has to be managable centrally for corporate customers.  This means being able to set mandatory settings from a single point on a network and force them onto every PC within a company – for example, the ability to lockdown the home page of the browser to always go to a corporate portal.
There’s even more than this but I hope it’s clear that the burden that we have to meet in order to ‘build a better browser’ is a lot larger than what our competitors have to meet.  Does this mean we’re always going to be behind?  Perhaps.  Ultimately however, we believe that we’ll be able to develop products that adhere to the letter of the law, while also addressing the needs of our customers in a deliberate and exacting fashion.


%d bloggers like this: