The Acid test for Microsoft

Microsoft is currently advertising Internet Explorer 8 on the television. Is it a case that Microsoft wants to make sure everyone has the best possible internet experience, or is Microsoft concerned about bigger fish?

Microsoft’s rise to dominance
The first web browser was released in 1991; it was not until 1995 Microsoft released the now legendary Internet Explorer. And it wasn’t until 1999 that Microsoft became the market leader for the internet web browser market.

With products that get a dominant market share it’s not always the case that the best product has won. In Microsoft’s case the overriding reason for its success was that the product was shipped with its operating system. By being there by default it required effort to make a change, and for many it was an effort too far.

Open Source fruit
Unlike today Windows / Mac / Linux operating system choice, early adopters of computers had literally hundreds or computer manufacturers to choose from, each had its own operating system that would not talk to any other. When companies started to copies IBM’s computers and use Bill Gates DOS operating system, companies who did not follow this migration died.

There are some exceptions like Sun, but Apple has always been seen as Microsoft’s main competition in the small computer market. And even using a completely different operating system it has refused to die.

Apple has always championed themselves as a lifestyle company, a company whose products are for consumers and not geeks. This has stuck, and with products like the iPhone and iPod has transformed the way we interact with technology.

Apple is not the only company to offer real choice and thanks to Linus Torvald’s decision to create open source software we now have browsers like Firefox.

Firefox has become the main alternative to internet explorer to mainly due to its advanced features, speed and the fact that anyone can help to improve it, and mainly do.

Keeping up with the Jones
With hundreds of web browser’s available to choose, one problem that has become rife is the fact that not all web browsers display web pages the same.

To combat this the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a body directed by the grandfather of the internet, created a set of guidelines to describe how a web browser should display a web page, these are called web standards and the W3C have also produced an online test Acid, to show how browsers perform. The current version of Acid is called Acid 3.

What will surprise many is that Internet explorer always does really badly at these tests, according to Wikipedia, Internet Explorer 8 currently scores 20 out of 100. To put this into context there are free browsers who score 100 out of 100.

So why with its millions for development why does Internet Explorer do so badly, quite simply with its market share it does not matter. For Microsoft its market share proves it is right and everyone else is wrong.

Why advertise a market leading free product?
For a company in such a dominant position it would seem a strange concept to try and sell a free product that has a massive majority install base.

With most of the other browsers, their manufactures are working actively towards web standards; collectively they are seeing market share gains against Microsoft.

While Microsoft had market share of up to 95% there was little or no competition but now at a market share of about 60%, Microsoft can’t continue to take the same attitude.

It can be seen as a matter of time before Microsoft has a minority share of the browser market. When this happens Microsoft will either have to make its Internet Explorer standards compliant or leave it to those too lazy or just don’t care to support its platform.

One reason for its continue marketing blitz for Internet Explorer is the realisation that in future years revenues will shift from its boxed products to its cloud computing products, and although free at the moment, no doubt Microsoft will eventually adopt a paid for or advertising supported model.

Without a market leading browser in house and competition from Google, could it possible that we see what happened to companies like Commodore in the early 90’s, happen finally to Microsoft?

So what browser will I use?
With more and more computing services migrating to the internet, your operating system and hardware will become less important. Ultimately it will be how you interface with these new services; this will be the deciding factor. In a few short years, no one will care if you are Windows, Mac or Linux, only the browser you will use.

With Google Chrome, Safari, Opera and Epiphany being the only main stream internet browsers to pass the Acid 3 test.  Epiphany being Linux based and Google Chrome still too buggy……

Impressed by its range of features and its ability to be used on a mobile phone as well, for me Opera is a clear winner.

But with new browsers released all the time what browser will I install next week?