As you must have read by now, Microsoft introduced the first platform preview of Internet Explorer 10 at the MIX11 conference. The announcement surprised many, including yours truly, since Microsoft is known for dragging its heels over Internet Explorer. There was a gap of five years between Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7, and a further gap of three years between Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 8. Say what you want about Internet Explorer, but a significant portion of internet users still rely on Microsoft’s browser for surfing the web. Rapidly evolving IE augurs well, not only for Microsoft and IE users, but also the entire web. It’s all well and good if Opera or Chrome or Firefox implements cutting edge standards, but not many developers are going to use those features unless Internet Explorer also supports it.
Over the past year or so, Microsoft has largely been saying the right things, and making the right moves. Internet Explorer 9, which was a huge improvement over Internet Explorer 8, introduced support for several HTML5 and CSS3 standards. With Internet Explorer 10, Microsoft is continuing to focus on making IE even more developer friendly and standards compliant. The first developer preview itself has a fairly impressive changelog. CSS3 Multi-column Layout, CSS3 Grid Layout, CSS3 Flexible Box Layout, CSS3 Gradients, and ES5 Strict Mode are some of the major new features Microsoft has implemented. These are changes that should thrill developers, and excite general web users. IE 10 platform preview should be winning accolades. Instead, Microsoft has once again managed to annoy developers and web standards enthusiasts.
In the past, Microsoft has been heavily criticized for twisting facts, spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), and talking out of its behind. Microsoft has been trying to turn over a new leaf, but old habits die hard. Yesterday’s announcement was full of buzz-words and half-truths meant to influence the average joe. Microsoft’s official announcement proclaimed:
The only native experience of the Web and HTML5 today is on Windows 7 with IE9. IE9′s approach to taking advantage of what the operating system offers from the native graphics stack to jump lists in the shell maximizes performance, usability, and reliability.
The trouble is that no one is quite sure as to exactly what Microsoft means by native web and HTML5 experience. The phrase native webis by itself is an oxymoron. The web isn’t supposed to be native. The web is supposed to be operating system and hardware independent. The web is supposed to be open and uniform. While HTML5 and CSS3 strive to deliver a native app like experience, there’s definitely no such thing as native HTML5.
Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate VP of Internet Explorer, wrote, The best HTML5 is native to the operating system, so Web sites have the fewest translation layers to pass through. Like all PR-speak, this statement is purposefully ambiguous, and conveys a false sense of superiority.
Microsoft is also making a lot of noise about “full hardware acceleration” support. However, as far as I know, Firefox 4 supports hardware accelerated compositing on most platforms, Chrome has been testing this for a long time through the beta channels, and Opera has demoed it in a labs build.
Dismayed at Microsoft’s shady tactics, people have already begun speaking out. While Haavard from Opera Software lambasted Microsoft, Mike Beltzner (ex-director of Firefox) decided to be cheeky and sarcastic.
The use of dubious and shady marketing speak wasn’t Microsoft’s only blunder. In an attempt to justify the lack of Window XP support, Dean Hachamovitch wrote, Others have dropped support on Windows XP for functionality that we think is fundamental to performance. Others here implies Google Chrome, which removed GPU acceleration and WebGL for Windows XP in Chrome 10. However, what Hachamovitch ignored to mention was that Google intends to re-enable these features in Chrome 11 on Windows XP systems with reasonably up-to-date drivers. He also forgot to mention Firefox and Opera two browsers that have already demonstrated that Windows XP is fully capable of running modern browsers.
Through its reckless behavior in the 90s, Microsoft almost become synonymous with evil. It has been desperately trying to rebuild its image over the past few years. Internet Explorer 10 has lots of stuff that are worth getting excited about. Sure, a lot of it is stuff that other browsers have already implemented. However, the IE team has clearly been doing a pretty decent job over the past year or so. Cheap antics like this will only tarnish the efforts put in by the Internet Explorer developers, and antagonize users. We are already well into the new decade. It’s high time that Microsoft stops treating every one of us like a moron, and lets the products speak for themselves.