Monday, March 23, 2009

How Not to Launch a Web Browser...

What? You weren't even aware that Microsoft just released its new browser upgrade, Internet Explorer 8? Well, you're not alone. People are largely oblivious to what used to be a major news event.

Internet Explorer 8, of course, has a range of new features such as "Accelerators" which are little more than a new name for shortcuts, "InPrivate" browsing which lets you turn enhanced privacy features on and off at will, and "Web Slices" which let you know when your favorite websites get updated.

None of these features are going to be deemed necessary (or even useful) by the typical internet user. Microsoft just has to have some features to tout in order to convince people to upgrade. The real truth is that Internet Explorer 8's main purpose is to act as supporting software for the company's larger cloud computing strategy. While this may prove to be a smart move looking a few years down the road, it does little to make life better for people who use the program right now.

The statistics back up this point. According to data provided by Net Applications and quoted in this article by the TG Daily, since launch day, the market share for IE8 has increased by less than 1.3%. Compare this to how Firefox 3 gained double that amount at 2.76% over its first four days of availability – "and we are talking about a browser that had less than 20% overall market share at the time of its release. Microsoft’s IE is still well above the 65% mark. You do the math on the performance discrepancy".

It used to be a big deal when a new browser was released. During the heyday of the browser wars with Netscape, Microsoft used to market their upgrades so successfully that everyone knew of an upcoming release before it happened, and it became an immediate must-have in cultural terms, just as iPhones are today. Now, few people are aware of new browser releases even after they've occurred.

I'm sure we'll all end up using IE8 eventually, just as the mainstream transition to Windows Vista is also seemingly inevitable given enough time. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good product, nor does it mean that it was well-marketed. The gurus at Microsoft ought to recognize that, if they want to achieve a successful launch, they'd be wise to design a product that actually surpasses the competition; not to mention the previous versions of their own product.


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