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A Better Place

Entry 1010, on 2009-05-14 at 20:56:07 (Rating 3, Computers)

I have often been guilty of verbally abusing Microsoft and taking a certain amount of perverse pleasure when they fail. I do have good reasons for this. Of all the support work I do in my job a huge proportion is related to Microsoft products which just don't work properly. So I don't apologise for this and if you find it boring please stop reading now because its about to happen again!

I found a Slashdot article today which graphed the change in use of various web browsers over the last 5 years. If you want a look, the graph (and discussion) is here but I will summarise the trends in this blog entry anyway.

Four browsers are tracked: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. The most important statistic is that IE has dropped from 92% to 66%. I know that 66% is still an impressive result because it means that IE has twice the share of all the other browsers combined but it is the trend which is important. Look at the graph and its very clear that IE is slipping and Firefox (and Safari and Chrome to a lesser extent) is rising.

Given another 5 years at this rate IE will be at 40% and Firefox will be at 42%. That is obviously significant but even now its becoming impossible for web developers to design web sites, databases, and web apps to work with IE and to ignore the rest. Unfortunately not everyone has heard the news and some sites still don't work well with anything except IE, but that will change.

I create a lot of web sites, databases and apps which use standard languages and protocols such as PHP, HTML, XML, CSS and Ajax and I prefer Safari because it supports these so well and its so fast, but I can use Firefox if I really need to. I would only use IE if there was no other option. I do use a Mac but my testing on PCs shows the same result.

So does this matter? All the major browsers are free so its not as if Microsoft relies on sales of IE for its income. Yes it does matter because of all the applications out there today the web browser is rapidly becoming the most important. Using web interfaces, databases and apps its possible to do almost anything on the Web now and that trend is likely to continue to grow. I'm not convinced that doing everything on-line and storing data in the cloud is the best model for everyone but the Web and web browsers will continue to become more important whether this trend accelerates or not.

So not having to rely on Microsoft for the most important program on your computer will surely make people realise that they don't need to rely on them for their "productivity" applications or operating system either.

Many years ago Microsoft used its monopoly position to destroy the opposition in the web browser market because they knew the browser was becoming more important. It worked initially, and at the time IE was a very competitive program (and I used it), but since then they have arrogantly used their advantage until people caught on to the fact that they didn't have to put up with second rate buggy, slow, insecure software.

Things can change and maybe Microsoft can recover and take back the ground they have lost but I don't think that will happen. Their corporate culture is too conservative and lacking in any genuine wish to make things better for their customers so I think they will continue to lose to their competitors.

What we really need now is for Open Office and Linux to be made more accessible and presented as a genuine option in the same way as Firefox was. If Microsoft lose their monopoly on operating systems and office software as well as web browsers then the computing world can only be a better place.

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