Mobile // Mobile Applications
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4/27/2006
02:48 PM
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Can Microsoft Convince You To Switch?

Everyone likes a good horse race--even when the race is fixed. That's about how I see the supposed race between Internet Explorer and Firefox. Ever since IE was included with Microsoft's operating system, its dominance has pretty much been a done deal. But that doesn't mean the front-runner should sit back and rest on its laurels. And up until now, that's what Microsoft has been doing.

Everyone likes a good horse race--even when the race is fixed. That's about how I see the supposed race between Internet Explorer and Firefox. Ever since IE was included with Microsoft's operating system, its dominance has pretty much been a done deal. But that doesn't mean the front-runner should sit back and rest on its laurels. And up until now, that's what Microsoft has been doing.Which means there are a lot of folks like me out there who have made the switch from contented IE user to happy Firefox fan. It wasn't just the tabs that convinced me--they had a lot to do with it, of course, but Opera has had tabs for a lot longer than Firefox, and I've never become an Opera lover. (Although I do go for a bit of Rigoletto now and again--OK, old joke. Sorry.)

It also wasn't just that Firefox made it less likely I'd pick up a case of malware. Besides the fact that I'm a careful browser, I felt it was only a matter of time before Firefox was targeted. And I may have been right.

It was mainly the extensions--the idea that you could mold the application to work exactly the way you wanted. And it was, well, fun--for example, controlling your audio app or getting a continuous weather report from your Web browser isn't exactly a "must do" in anybody's book, but those are two of Firefox's most popular extensions.

And that's what, until recently, Microsoft just didn't get. It didn't get that people like to futz around with their software--at least, a lot of the people reading this blog do. It didn't get that people like to have a lot of Web pages available at the same time--but don't like to have a lot of browsers open at the same time. And it didn't get that you can't just sit around and expect technically savvy users to continue to use your application out of pure habit.

Well, at some point, Microsoft finally got it.

Just as IBM finally got that suits and white shirts and shiny shoes don't project a friendly image at trade shows, Microsoft seems to have finally understood that just shipping a browser along with its OS isn't going to guarantee that people will use it. So as Ed Bott reveals in "IE7 For XP Beta 2: Has Firefox Met Its Match?" Redmond has added a few interesting features to its venerable browser, such as tabbing and some additional security protection. (Which it needs--IE is still the number-one target of malware writers.)

In fact, IE has done so well that Ed actually gives it points over Firefox in several categories. And since the latest version is supposed to be stable enough for anyone to use, presumably Microsoft is now hoping at least some of its lost sheep will return to the fold. We'll see.

This doesn't mean Microsoft has gotten any friendlier in other consumer areas. If you, like me, tend to read the list of Microsoft updates that occasionally appear on your computer, you might have noticed one last Tuesday that said, "The Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool notifies you if your copy of Windows is not genuine. If your system is found to be a non-genuine, the tool will help you obtain a licensed copy of Windows."

In other words, "Please install this tool that will tell you whether you're a pirate." Since I don't feel like becoming part of Microsoft's vigilante force for scoping out pirated versions of XP, I didn't bother to install it, even though I'm reasonably sure that the copy on my Sony VAIO is genuine. (If it isn't, Sony is gonna hear from me.) And if it isn't genuine, what will the tool do for me? Either make me shell out for a new (and expensive) copy of the OS, or, according to Gregg Keizer's article, plant a permanent nag banner at the bottom of my screen--not a prospect that would really motivate me to use this nice new tool.

On the other hand, if Microsoft installed a tool that would tell me if I had a pirated version, and then allowed me to complain about the store where I bought the machine (assuming I paid full price for what turned out to be an illegal version of the software), that I might go with.

What do you think? Do you think the new version of Internet Explorer will attract back Firefox users? Or do you think Microsoft has gotten so many people annoyed that they'll stay away--no matter how good the new browser is? Add a comment and let us know.

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