Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Internet Explorer to Be Improved by...Mozilla?

In today's dose of news from the "why, that's mighty neighborly of them" department, Internet Explorer is about to get a helping hand from, believe it or not, Mozilla, the organization that develops Firefox, its biggest competitor. They're working on a plugin that helps Internet Explorer use HTML5 Canvas. Now, I'm not going to sit here and give you a detailed description of what that is, since I'm no Web developer, but, according to the Ars Technica article reporting on this, it is a technology developed by Apple to allow the display of interactive bitmap images.

However, what I can tell you--or at least speculate on--is why they're doing this. The most likely reason is because it's been the case for a long time that IE is not standards-compliant. Microsoft is getting there, but their browser isn't quite there yet. This wouldn't be an issue if IE didn't have such a big market share, but it does, and that means Web developers have to take its quirks into account, which either means they have to put in more work to make their sites work with the less-standards-compliant IE and the more-standards-compliant Firefox, Opera, and Safari, or, in a worst-case scenario, they choose to write pages that work in IE and leave other browsers out in the cold. The latter approach doesn't happen as much now as it used to, probably because other browsers are gaining market share, but it still does happen. So, if Microsoft won't fix their browser quickly enough, Mozilla steps in and does it for them, meaning developers can write standards-compliant HTML and have it work everywhere. Not only does that help the developers, but it also helps those using browsers other than IE, since they have less chance of encountering a site that won't work correctly for them.

As for the second reason, it's pure PR. Mozilla gets to rub Microsoft's nose in it a little for making IE better than Microsoft could make it themselves.

I prefer to think it's 75% of the first reason and 25% of the second.

While i think this is a nice development, I have to wonder how much real-world impact it will have. After all, the people most likely to install this plugin are the most technically advanced, and those are also the most likely people to use Firefox. No offense to those who prefer to use IE, but a recent study found that, of browser users, Firefox users were the most likely to use an up-to-date version, with 83.3% of them doing so, while IE users were the least likely, with only 47.6% of them using a current version. If most IE users aren't even using the latest version of their browser, how likely is it that they'll install this plugin? Of course, two factors could possibly surmount this challenge. First, a company like Adobe could include this plugin as an optional download with its software in the same way that the Google or Yahoo toolbars are so heavily promoted now. Second, organizations could install this plugin on all their employees' computers, increasing adoption levels. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see how this works out.

And does anyone feel like starting a pool to guess when we'll see some malware writer release a trojan that masquerades as this plugin. Mark my words, it'll happen. I'll give it a week after the news hits a mainstream media outlet, even if it's before the real plugin is out.

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