Despite the preview platform releases, and a beta that's supposed to land on September 15th, I just can't seem to muster up any excitement over Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9.
Sure, I've downloaded the previews, and had a look at the demos that Microsoft has showcased, but even this leaves me feeling a little cold. Compare this to IE4, released back during the heady days of Dynamic HTML, when Internet Explorer seemed fresh and exciting and the browser that everyone (in my opinion) should have been running.
So what's changed?
Well, several things. First, while IE4 was a developer and user's paradise, Microsoft dropped the ball when it came to IE5, dropped the ball again with IE6, left IE6 festering about for way too long, and then dropped the ball again with IE8. Then came better browsers, such as Firefox, Opera and Chrome. Heck, even Safari makes IE seem like a mess in terms of plain old usability, and I say this as someone who dislikes Safari which a passion.
With IE9, Microsoft seems to be going back to the good old days of IE4 and putting a lot of emphasis on cool stuff that developers can do, and mixing this in with lashings of high-performance. But the more I play with the platform preview and the associated demos, the more disheartened I become, and the more convinced I am that Microsoft is still floundering. Sure, the 'Softies have gone back to the formula of appealing to developers, something which that helped it beat Netscape and ward off the competition for years. But the problem with that tactic is that it's old and belongs in a different era. The web now has expanded way beyond the desktop/notebook ecosystem and onto countless devices large and small. While those cool demos that Microsoft has put together for the preview platform seem to work well in IE9, they're awful when viewed on other browsers, and simply don't work on mobile devices. If the purpose of these demos is to encourage developers to leverage the power of IE9, that will mean frustration for those not using IE.
What Microsoft is doing is trying to rekindle the browser wars of days gone by, recruit developers as cannon fodder, and create a situation where end users are caught in the middle, facing a web that only works well on a certain kind of platform - Microsoft's platform. Sure, other browsers will grow and adapt, but it will take time, and will likely be painful ...
... if developers take an interest in leveraging this new power, that is.
The problem facing IE9 is getting people excited about another new browser. Fast browsers offering great performance are now commonplace, as is the compact, simple user interface and intuitive favorites/history/downloads mechanisms. Unless IE9 offers more to the end user than greater performance and a re-jigged user interface, then it will end up relying once again on being the default Windows browser, and having to watch its market share erode away.