IE Strategy Backfires

Microsoft is making it easy to upgrade-to a non-IE browser.

Its official. Microsoft recently stated definitively—and contrary to rumors—that there will be no new versions of Internet Explorer for users of older versions of Windows.

So what does this mean for the majority of Windows users, who arent even on Windows XP? Microsoft officials have said these users must upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 2 to gain the new security and capability improvements in IE.

I think Microsoft has it at least partially right. A lot of users will decide they want improved features and increased security in their Web browser, and they will decide to upgrade—but not to Windows XP SP 2.

Weve already seen the beginning trickle of users moving away from IE: For the first time in years, IEs market share has dropped slightly. But I predict that this trickle will soon become a full-fledged torrent.

In fact, I fully expect that, a year from now, IEs market share will be below 75 percent. (Check me on that in October 2005.) And thats being conservative because this would be a smaller drop than the Netscape browser ever took once it began to lose share. (And Netscape the company never did anything as stupid as telling users they could get new features only by using one operating system.)

I know what some of you are thinking: You geeks have been going on and on about how great Mozilla, Firefox and Opera, etc., are and how decrepit IE is, but regular people dont care.

Up until a few months ago, I probably would have agreed with that. But our alternative-browser mantra has now escaped the realm of geekdom and moved into the real world, where real people are recommending it to their real friends.

Following are two cases in point.

At a cookout I hosted this summer, one of my neighbors started telling me about his computer. He said he had been having serious problems with viruses and "spy stuff" and that a friend had helped him take care of the problems. This friend cleaned up my neighbors computer and, most significantly, moved my neighbor to Mozilla.

My neighbor said that he couldnt be happier with Mozilla and that he hadnt had any virus problems in months. He said hes also been recommending Mozilla to his other friends.

/zimages/1/28571.gifVendors can learn a lot from Mozillas open-source adventures. Click here to read more.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch at a local Chinese restaurant when a group of women at the table next to me began talking about computers. The discussion started with the standard complaint session, but then one of the women began talking about how she had started using "this Firefox thing" and how much she liked it and how secure it was. The other women at the table asked her to e-mail the Web address to them so they could get Firefox, too.

These kinds of experiences are, to me, key. Technology adoption really picks up when recommendations are made not by techies but by regular people to regular people. And, despite what some analysts think, people will download new programs—heck, the ability to download new programs is one of the main reasons most people have an Internet connection.

On top of all this is the recent news that Google is thinking about releasing its own Web browser. If you doubt this would have a big impact, think again. If everyone who currently uses the Google tool bar were to download and use a new Google Web browser, a sizable chunk would be taken out of IEs market share.

/zimages/1/28571.gifFor more on the browser wars, read Peter Coffees column, "Browser Vendors Need to Quit Monkeying Around."

Of course, some will say that Microsoft doesnt care if this happens—that its recent strategy has been to devalue the Web browser in order to move people to smart clients in its Office and Outlook applications.

But, if thats true, Microsofts strategy was to devalue all Web browsers, not just its own.

In past columns, Ive taken Microsoft to task for leaving its non-XP users in the lurch, but I think Im coming around to the point where I want to thank the folks in Redmond for this strategy. By driving down the market share of IE and making other Web browsers more widely used, Microsoft has done a great service to those of us who want to see Web sites and applications written to standards rather than to a single browser.

Thanks, Microsoft.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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