IE7: Good for users, good for developers

Like quite a few people, I’ve installed Internet Explorer 7 beta 2 that Microsoft released earlier this week as part of broadening out their beta testing programme of the new browser version to as wide an audience as possible. I like it and, compared to the earlier beta, it seems pretty stable.

One big plus for this beta: it has a workable bookmark migrating tool like Firefox, so I was able to successfully import my lengthy lists of bookmarked sites – over 1,000 including RSS feeds aka Live Bookmarks – in Firefox to IE. Extremely convenient! A very useful feature, one that undoubtedly will be a big help in making it easy for people to switch to IE.

I read John Dvorak’s dismissal of IE as “the great Microsoft blunder.” I like Dvorak, especially his wacky blog, and he makes some good points on why he thinks welding IE into the Windows operating system was not a good business decision by Microsoft.

But here’s a view on why it was a good overall decision, by FeedDemon developer Nick Bradbury:

[…] What Dvorak ignores is the huge number of Windows applications that have benefited from the ability to embed a web browser. Microsoft has done a great job making it easy for developers to host Internet Explorer in their software, and this has been a good thing for customers. Think of all the software that relies on an embedded IE – not just commercial web authoring tools, feed readers, email clients, etc., but also the thousands of in-house applications that need to display web pages. This isn’t a minor point: millions of people rely on software that requires an embedded web browser, and in this regard, these people benefit from having the browser included in their OS.

It’s a view you wouldn’t necessarily think of unless you’re a software developer or an IT manager, and it’s a valid view. I use the FeedDemon RSS reader which has a built-in browser and uses IE as its default (and which works perfectly with this beta, incidentally).

One interesting note. The IE beta is described as “Windows Internet Explorer” (see the logo above). A subtle change – I’ve always seen it described as “Microsoft Internet Explorer.” It’s still described as that on the IE blog.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Stuart Mudie

    What do you think of all the security enhancements? A big part of the chapter I just delivered on IE7 for the book I’m co-authoring on Windows Vista was dedicated to the fact that security is now a much more visible part of the IE experience – to what extent these changes are a real step forward in providing a more secure browsing experience to the “average” user” and not simply cosmetic remains to be seen.

  2. Dennis Howlett

    Nick Bradbury would say that – he’s invested in MSFT through his MSFT specific apps. IE only accounts for 60% of my readership. Mozilla/’Nix deriviatives account for the remainder with FF at 30%.

    The point most people miss is where Dorak talks about the defensiveness that characterises MSFT and the fact it wants to be everywhere. Did you catch Niall Kennedy’s revelaing discussion with Tom Raftery? The way Niall tells it, MSFT is trying to throw everything including the kitchen sink into Vista/IE. NOt a great idea.

    You/I and a decent proportion of the 35 million bloggers tracked by Technorati may understand RSS – most people I speak with go ‘Huh?’ The new IE interface will bamboozle many diehard IE6 users – IMO.

    There is a reason why MSFTs share price is languishing – and that – unfortunately- has to be an investor’s first concern. There is a reason why Mini-Microsoft exists. Seen Forbes pre-earnings article: “But the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant’s future is anything but predictable.”

    This is a case where the wider picture really does matter. A revved up MSFT is what everyone (apart from the Linux/ORCL bigots) want. At present, MSFT doesn’t look the part. Despite the sterling work of Scoble and others. Remember that even there, Scoble’s followers are in a small minority INSIDE MSFT. Which is where he needs to be influential. Why for instance is he silent on Wallop? Looks like a perfect match to me.

  3. Stuart Mudie

    Dennis: Bloggers and other web-savvy folks may well have abandoned Internet Explorer a long time ago, but the day my Dad switches over to Firefox instead of using the default browser that ships with his operating system is the day I’ll accept that what Microsoft does about securing their browser doesn’t matter.

  4. neville

    Stuart, I’ve not spent that much time with it yet. I did turn on the phishing filter when I installed it yesterday (not on by default; should be I think). So too early to say from my perspective.

    It’s not my default browser, Firefox still is. But I think IE7 will be a major challenge to FF and smaller ones like Opera. Dennis, whatever you think, IE still commands the major share of the browser market. Reality. And I think IE7 will make it easier for people re RSS, not harder.

    Nick Bradbury’s perspective is a very good one. I don’t believe you’re going to see any change at all in big organizations with bespoke apps and all the things Nick talks about. If IE7 is as robust as Microsoft say it will be – and this beta does look good in that regard, and with a support system now in place for people to give feedback – companies are just going to deploy it.

  5. Dennis Howlett

    It’s not as simple as Stuart makes out. This is about MSFT making it through the next 10 years.

    There are 2 distinct markets – consumer and business. Business spends far more than consumer even vaguely approaches on THIS kind of IT. As it stands, the model everyone’s looking at is ad-based. MSFT has just allocated $2.4 bn to do (it seems) exactly that as it attempts to head off Google. The browser therefore to MSFT is important but only as a way of locking users in.

    How they execute will be in their interests and not the user’s. Look at the kerfuffle over MSN Live? Now they’re shovelling a reader into the OS so you can get your newspaper on MSFT powered devices. What the heck is that about? What business user would want that IN the OS when things like that already exist and have proven massively underwhelming? It’s an intrusion.

    In the enterprise world, people want MSFT to concentrate on innovation in the core, not chasing lost causes. Remeber the first time you saw Office on Win 3.x? I do. It was gobsmacking. I was in love with Windows instantly and dumped WordPerfect Quattro Pro immediately. Along with DataEase. It was the promise of interoperability, consistency and a decent UI.

    That’s the last time I can recall MSFT truly innovating.

    At Software 2006, the talk was all about SaaS. SAP has opened itself up, recognising FF and saying they have to be ready to integrate so-called Web 2.0 apps. A lot of those are geared towards ‘NIX/Mozilla based browsers. If they get serious then they could easily use FF as the basis for lots of integrated stuff. They’re even talking about desktop widgets.

    Finally – I’ve tried IE7 beta before. In my mind, while there are some nice features, it will be confusing to an IE6 user who doesn’t get RSS etc. The upside is that MSFT does RSS a huge favour.

  6. David Tebbutt

    “That’s the last time I can recall MSFT truly innovating”

    Oh Dennis, per-lease.

    The ideas were nicked from Apple or, if you prefer, PARC or SRI, or whichever version of history you’re attached to.

    3.1 was simply the first time Microsoft got it working vaguely well.

    Reminded me of Adam Osborne’s (RIP, bless him) cry: “Adequacy is sufficient, everything else is irrelevant.”

  7. Dennnis Howlett

    I think you miss my point David – Office 3/Win 3.x at the time was offering me something I could use from a business perspective that was a lot easier to manage than a bunch of other apps. Excel was an easrly killer and the macro facilities in Word meant I could store central templates with Access DB data to massively improve productivity on routine operations. To me at the time, that was innovative.

  8. neville

    Win 3.1 was a milestone, Dennis, I agree. I remember going “wow!’ when I first installed it on the 286 I had at the time. And you could be right in saying it was the last time Microsoft were innovative.

    Here’s my own experience example to that point.

    At the time Win 3.1 came out in early 1992, the US company I was working for in the UK used office apps like WordPerfect 5.x and Lotus 1-2-3, all running on DOS. I knew no one anywhere else who used Word or any Microsoft productivity software. And no one starting to use Windows until around a year or so later when Win for Workgroups 3.11 came out and then NT.

    Win 3.1 could well have been the starting catalyst that drove the subsequent deployment of a GUI tool within organizations, in tandem with the availability of more powerful PCs (heh! my company had IBM PS2s: remember those?). And which led to productivity apps like Office being better developed and taken up as well. Fierce competition in that business space which Microosft won (do you know anyone in a company today running anything Lotus? Apart from Notes?)

    But I suppose all this depends on what you mean by ‘innovative’ and so we could spend a lot of to-and-fro with personal opinions about this.

    Is it not the case that averything we’re discussing here has roots in the original innovation of others, as per David’s examples? And if so, does that take anything away from Microsoft who refined what their predecessors had done? That’s innovation as well.

  9. Dennis Howlett

    I think we’re broadly agreed on how we see innovation, with the benefit of hindsight. What we may not agree on is innovaqtion as it is unfolding. At this moment in history, I’m seeing things that look innovative – YouTube, ZImbra etc etc. None of these apps sit on MSFT platforms and tend to develop for FF first. So what?

    To date, most of the drum banging has been for consumer apps. Now it is creeping into the enterprise. SAP has serious people doing serious things around Web 2.0. OSS R&D skunkworks are floating to the surface and not being slapped down. The Attack Oracle team is working hard to spread the OSS word. They’ve developed FF plug-ins for R/3. IBM/Oracle? (’nuff said). i am seeing a very different SAP to the one I knew in the late 90’s. And at this point in time, I have no reason to assume adoption or buzz will be any different for this segment as it has for consumers.

    These are the companies that will decide Vista, IE etc fate. Because unlike consumers who make passive decisions, the folk who are trying to work out how to wire business communities make active technology choices.

    These will be the innovators. Instead of which what do we have? MSFT trying to take on Google and Yahoo! in the ad space with what looks suspciiously like a tin spend of $2.4 billion. Investors hate it. Seen what users think of MSN Live?

    If MSFT would concentrate on what it does best – Office Windows, and hive off the exciting bits like Xbox, then maybe we’d have a more vibrant, focused MSFT. At the moment, they look a bit shabby and disorganised.

  10. neville

    Your’re dead right, Dennis – history is great but looking forward is what we should be doing here.

    I think you have a pretty good assessment of issues confronting Microsoft. The market certainly wasn’t impressed with the additional spending plans they announced last week ($30 billion knocked off their market value). Reading Mini Microsoft gives you a grassroots sense of big concerns by employees. Robert Scoble has been banging a drum for quite a while for more innovation in the company. Pundits and commentators everywhere seem to be ready to hang Microsoft out to dry re MSN, etc.

    The feeling I get is that Microsoft is like a lumbering giant, slow to respond and with little in the way of proaction. Little excitement (apart from Xbox). May not be a fair picture, but that’s a feeling I have. Kind of drawing a parallel to early nimble startup Microsoft and big lumbering IBM at the time of the very first PC, where Microsoft today is like IBM was then. One difference – IBM enabled a small (and nimble) group within the lumbering organization to actually bring to market a product that changed everything.

    Maybe Microsoft needs to find someone, a new Don Estridge, and force change in the company and drive a push to market with Office and the OS. And maybe the delays in Vista will be the cause of grief for Microsoft more than seems likely at the moment.

    But just speculatory opinions. Still, the SAPs and Oracles (not to mention the Yahoos and Googles) aren’t just sitting on their hands.

  11. Dennis Howlett

    We are at risk of diving into a philosophical black hole – which I will neatly sidestep and move on. Your views about the direction etc at Microsoft are pretty much what most others are saying.

    The problem is Ballmer and his minions – who admits he doesn’t read blogs. He’s a 20th century salesman in a world that’s moved from underneath him. He’s not a vision guy but an execution guy. Scott McNeally wasn’t immune and neither is Ballmer.

    Crazy though this sounds, he should do as Dave Duffield did years ago at PSFT and recognise he’s not the man to lead MSFT into the future. Interesting to note – Duffield – at 60 is still developing leading edge software. On his own $$.

    SAP is not a lot better with its announcement yesterday. It was pretty old-hat and retroactive. Which surprised me as they have a fair wdge invested in OSS/Web 2.0

  12. Dennis Howlett

    Scoble is totally screwed on this – apart from the fact he doesn’t really understand ‘enterprise.’ But then I consider myself well and truly baited. Gartner – who cares?

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