I got online this morning feeling I’d missed some huge world event. Well, kinda. Internet Explorer 7 beta has been released. And from all accounts, it’s a fairly half-hearted effort. Dave Shea, among others, has given it an exhaustive autopsy – basically the only big news is tabbed browsing, alpha PNG support and a few CSS2 updates.
I think we’re heading back down the path of the web circa 1999. IE5 was starting to kill off Netscape 4, which we all learned to loathe. Then Netscape released Netscape 6 (famously ‘skipping’ version 5), and we knew it was all over for Netscape with that horrid release. Thankfully the Mozilla Foundation was formed and went on to create some excellent products (including Firefox, of course).
If the final release of IE7 doesn’t radically improve over IE6, we could be trapped yet again in a quagmire of decrepit browsers. This is also thanks to IE7 only being available on XP and Vista operating systems. Asa Dotzler from the Mozilla Foundation sees this as a potential boon for Firefox growth among disenfranchised Windows 2000 users (and hey, maybe even a few ’98 machines… poor souls). While this will hopefully be the case, I think IE6 dependency will be around for a long time to come. Many businesses (including my current workplace) employ web-based applications that use IE-specific Active X controls and badly written, proprietary-based HTML. These systems are vital to the inner-workings of many organisations, and the cost to upgrade these systems would be enormous. With this in mind, switching to Firefox or Opera is not an option – nor is the switch to the latest Microsoft OS and the ensuing massive license-fee fork out (which is probably a lot to do with why IE7 won’t be available for older versions of Windows – another incentive to upgrade).
So the bad news is this: we might be hacking away for IE6 for many years to come – and we could be due for some more of the pain that followed the first ‘browser war’ those many years ago.