The IE connundrum

Its a debate that isn’t going to go away. Nobody in their right mind is going to question notepad being shipped as part of windows. There are several software companies who sell software that can format a hard disk, but nobody challenges Microsoft shipping a format utility in the operating system.

In the 21st century, the PC has changed, and Microsoft belatedly but correctly identified that it was going to become largely a fat client for network-delivered content. They made a call, one I consider a good call despite my initial scepticism about Microsoft’s intents, to shift to tapping into various emerging open standards and developing their operating system to match the sort of user experience that was emerging from the web.

Delivering a modern Windows experience depends on having web-browser technologies integrated into the operating system. Everything from help documentation to easy customisation of folder views and the (imho failed) “Active Desktop”.

In essence, the web browser isn’t a surface application, its a fundamental to much of what is the modern PC. Asking Microsoft to remove it, as Opera are hoping the EU will do, is going to be bad for every Windows user.

The problem is that IE is both browser component and proprietary, custom product. Its not just providing fundamental operating system functionality it is actively competing with software from Opera and Netscape and Apple.

If Windows shipped with Firefox or Safari as its built in operating system, I would own licenses for Internet Explorer. But – I don’t think IE should be the browser in Windows either.

Windows does need a fundamental set of browser functionality, it is now so dependent on it for so many features and services, and an off-the-shelf Windows install needs to have some kind of basic web-browser. But this “Windows Web Browser” needs to emphasize standards compliance and performance of system services. Then Windows can benefit from healthy competition in one of the biggest markets in the industry rather than being encumbered by it.

Think about it – if IE is valued at $25 a pop, that is either included in or swallowed by the cost of Windows – even if you are buying a machine that will never be used to browse the web, that will never have a book mark saved on it, because there is no basic, Windows browser which lacks product content.

$25 less per Windows install is going to lower the genuine:pirate copy ratio and IE is going to have to compete rather than simply suck the fat off Windows’ bottom line. Scoble says Microsoft is an intensely competitve company. How, then, does he explain such a high quality yet heavy weight application providing what are now core services instead of standing on its own in the marketplace as an alternative web-access medium to lean, mean, operating system basics.

Look at Outlook Express: There are no suites against Microsoft for shipping a basic mail client, and their commercial offering, Outlook Express, is what every other major mail app models itself after.

Personally, as much as I love IE, I think the team has pulled the wool over a lot of eyes at MS. The title of this post wasn’t a typo :)

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