A dozen years back, my old web developer friend Charlie Duff said to me that he didn’t see any reason for the marketplace to develop a new browser, that Redmond, Mr. Softy, had it covered. Netscape, once the leading online browser, and the first to place cookies on desktops, would soon capitulate, we all surmised, and why would anyone use a different one? He also suggested that since browsers weren’t money makers, it didn’t make any sense at all for a company, or the Sand Hill Road gang, to waste resources on such a money pit. Soon after Google appeared and shook the boys in the northwest to their knees, and a band of open source upstarts created Firefox without a care about profits. Apple piled on and the wireless world, went wild with all sorts of widgets and interfaces to usurp the erstwhile leader of the pack.
My old friend Charlie is one of the real Internet pioneers, and he had eCommerce web sites before anyone figured out what the “e” meant. And why in the world would anyone choose to go elsewhere to peddle their wares online? Wasn’t the Microsoft “value proposition” for servers and operating systems impossible to penetrate? What he didn’t know, and what Microsoft didn’t anticipate, was that the new advertising model would re-write the rules of the game. The other thing Gates et al did not anticipate was how open source development, and the disgruntled, very independent, world of web development would feel about all this bending over for Bill.
Prior to this chat with my old friend Charlie, I worked with Pete Kaminski who developed perhaps the first browser, “NetCruiser,” for Netcom which was one of the very first ISP’S. NetCruiser was an artifact browser from the pre-dawn days of the Internet and Al Gore’s disingenuous trope. Pete shared his tale of his trip to Redmond to sell his brilliance. Young and naïve, as he was back then, even he recognized this was not a percentage move. Microsoft didn’t need his brilliance, only his wares, and, lucky for Pete, he begged off and today is a successful entrepreneur and investor.
That was my first introduction to the Mr. Softy way. Though when you are sitting on $30 billion cash, few folks are willing to relive their tales publically. Evidence of the lingering effects of Microsoft’s hegemony, is alive and well, as I read this article in today’s review of IE 9 by the editor of Technologizer, Harry Mccracken. Just below the article title, “The first beta of IE9 is the first truly modern browser from Redmond. Try it without prejudice.” You get a hint of the quid pro quo that Bill, now Steve, impart on all their invitations.
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It’s been difficult for me to try anything new from Redmond without prejudice because of the backlog of stories from developer friends I’ve collected over the years. And, unlike Harry, I wasn’t invited to today’s Beta Bash to get an early look at this new anachronism. Yet, it’s hard to find anything in Harry’s article that is an incentive to make my way over the bridge and stay awake through yet another yawn of a browser demo. Been there, done that. No, I’ve leave that to our audience to pick apart. As Harry does point out, while IE still has the bulk of users, power users choose Firefox or one of the many new choices. There aren’t many folks who know their way around the Internet neighborhood who open IE any longer, except to check to make sure the less informed can see what their business is peddling.
As it stands, Harry’s homage to George Michaels and Redmond notwithstanding, his article is about what we’ve seen in the past:
The last IE upgrade that was this pleasing was version 5, which shipped in 1999. In most respects that matter, IE9 finally catches up with the competition. In a few, it’s sprinted past them. It’s just plain good. I don’t expect admirers of other browsers to come home to IE en masse: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera are all pretty darn impressive these days, too, and all have features that IE9 still lacks. But some people who have instinctively avoided Microsoft browsers for years might well love this one. To riff on a George Michael song title, even power users should give IE9 a try and browse without prejudice.”
History is supposed to teach us something, or as one of those clichés tells us, we will repeat the same foolish mistakes over again. As Jeff Chester quotes from Proctor & Gamble’s message to the Clinton aristocracy, out in his brilliant book, Digital Destiny, “Don’t do anything that hinders the role of advertising online.”