IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

Summary: Is Microsoft agile enough to compete in the modern browser market? Sure, what they're showing off in the IE9 platform previews now is interesting, but it's unfinished. How long will it take for next month's beta to turn into a final product? And how quickly before the competition leapfrogs it?

SHARE:

Whenever the conversation turns to browsers lately, the question comes up: Can Microsoft be agile enough? Sure, what they're showing off in the IE9 platform previews now is interesting, but it's unfinished. Microsoft is planning to release an IE9 beta on September 15, but how long will it take for that beta to turn into a final product? And how quickly before the competition leapfrogs it?

Those doubts are understandable. Over the years, Microsoft hasn't exactly developed a reputation for swift, sure software development. But how does their performance compare with rival software developers? I went back and looked at the record, counting the number of days between major releases for IE, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari. Here's what the results look like, in chart form (click to see the full version in its own window):

I had to make a couple assumptions for this chart. I assumed that the final release of Internet Explorer would be on March 30, 2011, roughly six months after the beta and around the time of Microsoft's MIX conference. I think that's a reasonable period of time for the full beta cycle to complete. (By way of comparison, Microsoft went from beta to RTM of Windows 7 in less time than that.) Performance on the IE9 development effort has been very steady, with new releases every 6-8 weeks. So it can certainly be done. I also gave Mozilla credit for its Beta 2 release of Firefox 4 in July. Even with that largesse, they've still taken an unusually long time between major releases.

It's hard to fully gauge what Microsoft is capable of doing based on past performance. Every single version of Internet Explorer up till now has been tied to a new release of Windows, which explains the enormous gap between IE6 (Windows XP, 2001) and IE7 (Vista, 2006). Clearly, Microsoft realizes that three years might be a reasonable gap between Windows releases, but it's far too big a gap  between browser updates. So what is the right number? In his keynote address at MIX06, Bill Gates was fairly blunt:

The browser we need to be unbelievably agile with. I don't know if [the proper release cycle is] nine months or 12 months or what it is, but it's much more like that than what we've done for these last three years.

Based on recent performance, Microsoft is a long ways from being able to deliver a new browser every year. Ironically, Apple is there already, releasing Safari 5 364 days after Safari 4. And Google is working at twice that speed, releasing Chrome 5 almost exactly six months after its predecessor. That's understandable, given Chrome's minimal user interface.

Picking the right release cycle is a tremendous balancing act for Microsoft, one in which they have to accommodate the demands of conservative corporate customers (who want to avoid upgrades except when absolutely required) and big-spending, trend-setting early adopters, who crave change.

The big question is whether IE9 represents a true break from the past for Microsoft. From a standards point of view, that's certainly true, and its development effort also suggests a tempo that it hasn't come close to in the past. Maybe after IE9 is complete, Microsoft will finally be able to pick up the pace, with the engine evolving along with the W3C's HTML5 specifications. If that's the case, an annual browser update could be the norm, with Internet Explorer 10 ready in early 2012, in time to be included with Windows 8.

Topics: Browser, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

76 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Chrome in the last 6 months,

    has become my primary web browser over Firefox. It is finally getting compelling extensions, and updating it, well I don't even need to think about it.

    IE is a legacy long dead. It isn't extension-able, and it is a slow slug. I still like FireFox, however, in an enterprise environment, it isn't feasible to keep it up to date, and repackaging it is a pain. Chrome is easy, and keeps itself up to date, and IE, well it has WSUS, which is why in our organization we only support and leave installed IE. We don't prevent them from installing Chrome, since, well it installs into the user profile level anyway, and since it self updates, don't need to worry about keeping up on the updates.

    In order for IE to be even remotely compelling, it needs to be HTML5 compliant, (yes, I know, it is still a work in progress) which I believe that is what the Alpha previews were all about, and it needs to be fast at starting up, responsive, and fast at rendering many types of web content, such as flash and Java.

    Currently, I only use IE if I absolutely must.
    Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

      @JM1981 - I strongly encourage you to download and play with the latest IE9 preview. I think you'll be pretty amazed by its rendering and script execution capabilities. The IE9 preview is already ACID3 compliant except for the areas which will soon be removed from ACID3 anyhow.

      How the full IE experience will feel when the new rendering and execution engines are fitted with the new IE shell we'll have to wait until Sept 15th to find out.

      But writing Microsoft off at this point would, I think, be somewhat foolhardy.
      de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @de-void "The IE9 preview is already ACID3 compliant except for the areas which will soon be removed from ACID3 anyhow."

        How convenient. Actually, IE9 is shaping up to be a significant improvement over IE8, both in terms of speed and compatibility. IE9's ACID 3 score is in the 80's. IE8 got a 29. IE8 was noticeably slower than the competition in certain functionality. IE9 appears to be much closer to the competition.

        All this coming from a guy who avoids IE, and Windows, whenever possible. I agree with Ed's comments concerning the agility of the IE9 team. Microsoft has made great strides with IE9. That is, assuming it turns out as good as it sounds.
        Info-Dave
      • Correction: IE9 scores 95 on Acid3

        @Info-Dave <br><br>Not "in the 80s" as you say.<br><br>And the remaining five points are attributable to tests that have been deprecated or will be changed in the final HTML5 spec.
        Ed Bott
    • Sorry. Millions beg to differ.

      @JM1981
      Of course you assume the millions don't know anything but in my mind, I have, and I have used extensively every major browser in existence and IE works great and every other browser just feels like a poorly thought out clone of IE with the changes only being there for the sake of showing they are different, always the poor sister in comparison, but yes, different.
      Cayble
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @Cayble
        IE is the default (and only) browser on almost every Windows machine sold, and for millions that blue e is synonymous with the internet. Yet, in spite of these tremendous advantages, IE has steadily declined in market share as the "millions" have actively chosen to ditch it for superior browsers.

        IE is unequivocally inferior to much of its competition -- it only "works great" for you because web developers have wasted hours and hours to make sure you remain blissfully unaware of its numerous shortcomings. It survives through ignorance and corporate dependence on bad browser-specific code.

        Browsers are designed to do the same thing, so they will be similar in many ways -- but if you're going to accuse something of being a clone, IE has copied Netscape and every other browser out there from the beginning.

        Far from being different for the sake of difference, alternative browsers are different for the sake of fostering innovation and pushing forward the evolution of the web -- an evolution that Microsoft has stunted over the past decade with interminably long development cycles and lackluster upgrades.

        But having said all that, I do think IE9 has the potential to be a great browser. IE's declining market share has forced them back into the game, and while it's been a game of catch-up for the past two releases, they're finally in a position to offer up a worthy competitor to Gecko & WebKit browsers. IE8 is a decent if unimpressive browser. IE9 is looking like it could be more than evenly matched with Firefox 4 or Chrome 6.

        But no matter how good IE9 is, I personally will not use it, because I do not yet trust Microsoft. If IE9 is great, it is great because other browsers forced it to be. Chrome and Firefox aren't going away anytime soon, but if they did I wouldn't trust Microsoft to stick to its new rapid and innovative development philosophy. I don't want to see IE9 dominate the market unchanged for 5 years like IE6 did. Long live the browser wars!
        McMoose
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @Cayble

        I agree. All the other browsers look like poor clones of IE.

        All this over essentially a picture frame.
        tonymcs1
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @tonymcs

        Yes, kind of like a picture frame, if there were a picture frame only capable of framing paint-by-numbers watercolors (except in order for the painting to look right in the frame, you have to paint some of the numbers wrong), and for years this is the only frame used by major galleries, so everybody has to paint for it. Except some artists want to make art that goes a little beyond paint-by-numbers watercolors, so they build a better frame, and produce superior art to go in it, until the galleries have to take notice and say -- wow, this frame is really holding us back.
        McMoose
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @McMoose
        Very well explained. If you don't believe that browser you've loved for years is as bad as McMoose has described then find yourself a web developer and set aside an hour or so.

        I'm very excited about IE9 and that someday we won't have to test our sites in 2 or 3 different virtual machines to see how eff'd up it looks in each version of IE.
        chris.robinson
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @Cayble

        I've used every browser extensively, when I have a choice, it's Firefox.

        That doesn't mean anyone else should choose mine simply because I think it's best. However, I've switched over quite a few users simply by letting them see what the perks are of choosing like I do.

        For example, I'll set them up with Adblock Plus and they find the newfound peace from flash ads to be amazing.

        I'll set them up with xmarks and they'll never have to worry about losing booksmarks or passwords again. I'll set them up with complete customizability and they never go back to IE again.

        Doesn't seem like a "poorly thought out clone of IE" to me or anyone who uses it.

        IE on the other hand, just stays slow. Haven't tried the beta and don't plan on it for the simple reason that I've already got Firefox, Flock, Chromium, Chrome and Epiphany. Why would I choose IE when I already have 4 browsers to choose from, all of which do everything I ever asked and more?
        tmsbrdrs
    • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

      @JM1981

      "IE is a legacy long dead. It isn't extension-able, and it is a slow slug."

      As far as extensions go - we haven't a clue as to what will happen, since Microsoft hasn't gotten to that point in development yet.

      As far as being slow, however, it looks like performance is a primary focus of Microsoft this time around, and it looks to be plenty competitive.

      "In order for IE to be even remotely compelling, it needs to be HTML5 compliant, (yes, I know, it is still a work in progress)"

      And as a work in progress, it's already doing far better than most other browsers, if Microsoft's numbers are to be believed.

      "and fast at rendering many types of web content, such as flash and Java."

      Flash and Java do their own rendering and processing using code written by Adobe and Sun/Oracle, which means that browser choice has little, if any, impact on their performance.
      CobraA1
      • IE "Extensions"

        @CobraA1
        They're called "add-ons" instead of Extensions. Funny thing - there ARE some extensions for IE out there. IE Spell, for instance, is a freeware spell checker add-on. There are others available.
        Wolfie2K3
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        "They're called 'add-ons' instead of Extensions."

        Okay, thanks, I guess I wasn't paying attention.

        In any case - there's just not a whole lot of them for IE, and most of them are scattered all over the web. There's just not a lot of cohesion there. It's nothing like Firefox or Chrome right now.
        CobraA1
      • IE Add-ons aren't scattered all over the place...

        @CobraA1
        They have a home here:
        http://www.ieaddons.com/en/

        That's NOT to say that some site somewhere else can't host their IE add-on elsewhere.
        Wolfie2K3
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @Wolfie2k3:

        Call me when the following page has more than "No items match your search" on it:

        http://www.ieaddons.com/en/search/?search=ad%20block
        Random_Walk
    • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

      @JM1981
      Chrome is just more Google spyware. It is a no go in any corporate environment that values privacy and confidentiality. If you want to give your life to Google, that is your business. But, it should not be permitted on corporate computers unless senior management has made an informed decision.
      jorjitop
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @jorjitop If you are worried about privacy then use Chromium
        ssj6akshat
      • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

        @ssj6akshat
        You beat me to it. Chromium is fully open code and so far it's easy, by inspecting the code, to see there is no personal info sent to google at all.

        @ those who say that firefox is an IE clone:
        It's probably best to do a little research. First modern browser was Mosaic which later became Netscape Navigator. Microsoft, upon seeing Netscape's success, released IE for free with Windows. IE was almost an exact clone of "Spyglass" Mosaic browser which was based on the original Mosaic browser. In 98' Netscape founded the Mozilla foundation which led to a stripped down version of Netscape called Firefox. This was true innovation because it allowed you to install only the functionality you need. These add-ons have led to many innovations that IE has incorporated into itself. IE is the real clone and has been playing catch up for years. The only reason for IE's success is that it comes installed on your computer by default.
        mookiemu
    • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

      @JM1981 Chrome is big brother watching you.
      hayneiii
    • RE: IE9 will tell just how agile Microsoft really is

      @JM1981 IE8 doesn't need extensions or as they're properly called , addons to acheive functionality and security. Out of the box, it's the most functional and secure browser of all. Firefox REQUIRES that the user install addons to achieve an acceptable level of security and it is at a price of usability and ability to view pages in their entirety. I only use a few web slices and accelerators in IE and that's it. I do not block ads, scripts, or anything else but popups. IE8 is the only browser I will use and I have tried all of the others and found them lacking. Chrome comes in dead last because of it's sheer ugliness and terrible UI implementation. I found no differences in speed in the way I use a browser and the UI of IE is simply the best and easiest to use. IE also has always been the fastest at loading a page from a cold start. I couldn't care less about the ACID3 wishlists or at this point even HTML5 which is years away from substantial implementation.
      IE9 looks fantastic so far and it will probably go a long way in gaining market share for what has always been the best browser. Long live Microsoft and Internet Explorer.
      dch48