By John Gruber
Work at Atoms. Make the best shoes ever.
It’s rare that an application as large, as successful, as popular, and as important as IE Mac is put down. Of course, there’s never quite been an application like IE before.
Before the Internet explosion of the late 90’s, it was generally understood that large, polished applications produced by commercial software companies cost money. You, the user, pay them, the software company, for a license to use the app.
Not so with web browsers (and email clients). The browser battle between Netscape and Microsoft resulted in both companies giving away their browsers for free. Users, by and large, rejoiced. Who doesn’t like free?
But of course, there’s no such thing as a free browser. What we saved in software license fees, we lost in the competitive marketplace. With Microsoft’s unfathomable mountain of cash, and Netscape’s then-overinflated stock price, both companies could afford to pay engineers to produce quality web browsers which were given away to users. But few other companies were willing or able to risk entering a market where the leaders were giving away their products.
This forever crippled the market for commercial web browsers. The conundrum: you need full-time effort from top-notch programmers to produce a quality web browser, but you can’t make money to pay the engineers by selling the browser, because your competitors are giving away their browsers free of charge. (Open source is no free lunch, either. The Mozilla project has been in large part developed by full-time AOL/Netscape engineers.)
When it debuted, Mac IE 5 was the best web browser in the world, primarily because of the Tasman rendering engine that provided unprecedented levels of standards compliance.
But then what? Mac IE 5 shipped in 2000. It was both better than any other browser, and it was bundled with the Mac OS. With no competition, and no upgrades to sell, what motivation did Microsoft have to continue to move the product forward? None. And so today’s IE 5.2 is not much different than the IE 5.0 of three years ago. There have been a few nice little features added, but nothing major.
The announcement that Mac IE is dead is not surprising. Why? Don’t look for the answer in statements from Microsoft PR. Instead, use the advice Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein: Follow the money.
In the case of IE Mac, there is no money. Neither directly nor indirectly did Microsoft stand to profit by continuing to fund the development of Mac IE. And note: this statement was just as true before Apple released Safari.
Tantek Çelik (lead developer of the Tasman rendering engine) tells how he heard the news:
Sad to say, I found out this morning from folks who pointed this out to me.
We know that, after spending billions of dollars to defeat all competitors and to absolutely, positively own the desktop browsing space, Microsoft as a corporation is no longer interested in web browsers.
Eric Meyer lauds Mac IE’s long list of innovations:
I’d like to take a moment to run down a list of innovations and features that IE5/Mac introduced back in 2000.
Dan Benjamin correctly points out that establishing independence from Microsoft is essential for Apple:
It’s not enough that Apple be compatable in performance and capability. Apple needs to offer people a compelling reason to make the switch — or to remain on the platform. People need a justifiable reason to prefer Macs again.
Todd Dominey on why Microsoft’s the-browser-is-part-of-the-OS policy is dreadful news for web developers:
If IE truly does become an OS-only product, then the common web request of “Please upgrade your web browser” will become completely irrelevant.
I can assure you everyone loses here.