Collateral Damage & The Browser Wars - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
6/26/2009
10:03 AM
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Collateral Damage & The Browser Wars

With Microsoft's IE8 and Mozilla's Firefox 3.5 Release Candidate 2 both publicly available, there's been a fair amount of conversation about whether the functionality of these new versions will cause consumers to change browsers.

With Microsoft's IE8 and Mozilla's Firefox 3.5 Release Candidate 2 both publicly available, there's been a fair amount of conversation about whether the functionality of these new versions will cause consumers to change browsers.I think brand preference is (and will be) based as much on what the collateral damage these efforts cause. And, in Microsoft's case, this fact doesn't bode well for its IE8 rollout.

Even in the best of circumstances, browsers perform similarly, in large part. Many of the performance enhancements in both IE8 and Firefox 3.5 are incremental improvements, or adjustments that I'd wager are lost of the vast majority of consumers. I know you're aware of CSS 2.1 test cases, or the utility of Java Script profiling developer tools, but that's talking in Esperanto to Joe Average Internet surfer.

I think the bigger differentiator, if not the ultimate one, is what the browsers screw up, either directly or indirectly.

A personal anecdote: I run XP on a box that I use to do digital audio and video projects. I have a fairly high-end audio card in it, with lots of funny I/O options for my synths and other inputs, but it's distinctly over-the-counter.

After I downloaded IE8 two weeks ago, my Sony audio programs got hung up and wouldn't load. When I went to the Microsoft and Sony sites and found no help, I decided I didn't need nuanced improvements to my web surfing, and did a system restore. Oops. Then IEx wouldn't run at all. Somehow, the update had destabilized somethingoranother. I was out of luck.

I used Safari for Windows to download Firefox (both browsers work just fine), and I am done with IE. So is there a moral of the story, beyond my own unique experience?

I think tech innovation -- whether browers, or most gizmos -- yields two sorts of collateral damage: problems and inconveniences, like my sound card issue (or the challenge of relearning how to do something that sort of worked fine before) and, second, failure to meet expectations/warrant said effort.

The second issue is the biggie, probably. "More" isn't a synonym for "better" outside the world of engineers. IE8 could do a million things, but I wonder how many of them were requested by consumers, or might ever be appreciated by them (remember those flashing VCR clocks)?

Add up all the problems, and the difficulty of changing, and will the relative collateral damage from browser upgrades be the deciding factor in which one wins?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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