As many of you have already seen, IE is continuing to lose browser share (see here
, and here
). Typically, the non-Microsoft crowd cheers this as a great thing since they typically view diversity in the browser space as a good thing. And from a competition standpoint it usually is since it drives standards compliance, quality, innovation, etc. Or so the story goes.
However, the market in many ways behaves contrary to this dynamic. Product standardization is what is often required to drive critical mass. The de facto "standardization" of Windows in the PC industry was driven in large part to the virtuous cycle of potential revenues for ISVs on a large installed base driving more customers to Windows to take advantage of ISV Windows products. What does this have to do with the wild and wooly world of Internet browsing? Well, I by no means intend to imply that the de facto standardization of the Internet on IE in some way drove the explosion of web sites, ecommerce and the like. Users would have flocked to those offerings regardless as rich browsers from any software maker entered the market.
However, how much did content and application providers benefit from this de facto standardization? I would argue tremendously. We hear all the time from the "support Internet standards" crowd (and I don't mean that disingenuously but only put it in quotes to differentiate them from those folks that really don't care about standards - which is a huge percentage of the typical Internet user community) how a large percentage of sites are not standards-compliant but really only IE-compliant and do not play well with true standards-based browsers. Clearly, content and application providers have benefited by having to only worry about working with the de facto IE browser and don't really care about being truly standards-compliant. A smaller test matrix, more time to focus on other areas of the application, etc. all make having a single browser standard a good thing and has to some small part made it easier to fuel the growth of the Internet. Why, for example, do you think corporate enterprises mandate standard browsers on their intranets. It makes development and support much easier.
So how does that lead us to a fragmented browser market being a good thing? Clearly, based on the preceding arguments, I should be sitting here as a Microsoft employee decrying the fragmentation of the browser market and telling everyone how great IE standardization is for users and developers alike. Well, my stalwart reader, I think Microsoft doesn't care if the browser market starts to fragment. Why? Because I think Avalon and/or Longhorn (remains to be seen how WinFX and Avalon play out on non-Longhorn platforms) actually benefits from a fragmented browser market. How? Well, if I am a content developer or app designer and I have a choice between a massive installed base of Avalon/Longhorn and a fragmented browser market, which way am I gonna lean. Sure, I will probably provide some level of "least common denominator" functionality via the simple HTML 4.0 browser experience, but all of the really cool stuff I will want in as "standardized" an environment as possible. And that very well could be Longhorn/Avalon. Take the Windows ISV model of the early 90s and now apply it to cool Windows applications that can be easily deployed and managed across the Internet. Its essentially the browser experience but with a ton more functionality and "standardization".
Now the Internet standard crowd will point to being able to do a lot of the same things Longhorn/Avalon can do using advanced CSS, SVG, XUL, etc. True enough. But again, end users don't care about that stuff. And if ISVs can tap the massive Windows market with one dev model for both smart client and "Internet deployable" applications, that is pretty compelling. Not to mention that a browser, even the newest ones, are only one stepped removed from dumb clients, and really can't exploit the host machines capabilities (3D acceleration, local storage, etc.) the way an Avalon/Longhorn app will. None of this is a done deal of course and it is all just a theory that popped into my head this morning on the drive into work (light traffic on the pre-holiday drive so I could think more rather than curse other drivers). I haven't thought it through all the way and I am sure there are holes in the logic, not the least of which will be penetration of Avalon on non-Longhorn Windows OSes. But hey, that is what slick thoughts are all about!
Personal Disclaimer: This is all just Jeff Brand thinking out loud. It in no way reflects anything Microsoft is thinking, written, or plans on. I have no inside knowledge, I