15 February 2005So there’s some news around Internet Explorer. Yeah, that browser that everyone uses, but which hasn’t changed for years.
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Second, a fellow RD put me onto this IE-based browser called
Avant Browser. It adds a ton of Firefox-like features to IE, including tabbed browsing, integrated searching and more. And it is freeware – no ads, no spyware, no catch that we can find. I’ve been using it as my primary browser for a couple days now and no longer yearn for Firefox at all.
Finally, Microsoft has decided that they really need to do some thing about or with IE, so they are coming out with IE 7.0 sometime in the future. Here’s the Microsoft
While I do think that Microsoft needs to do an IE upgrade, this is a double-edged sword for them – and for those of us who prefer rich clients.
Back around 2000, before the dot-bomb, there was an emerging debate about whether the browser should continue to be a glorified terminal or should become a programming platform. The discussion was rendered largely moot by the dot-bomb and the Bush-era recession, but Firefox and a new IE will likely rekindle the debate.
I personally don’t see the “browser as a programming platform” being a good thing. Browsers were designed for document viewing. They’ve already been hacked nearly to death to enable the kinds of web apps we have today. Just think how deeply they’ll need to be hacked to enable real programming capabilities comparable to Windows or KDE. Such a backwards way of getting a programming platform is very unlikely to result in anything good.
That said, if we were to start from scratch. If we were to design a real programming platform that supported rich GUI interactions, client-side logic, included meaningful state management and access to client-side devices like printers, scanners, etc. Well, then we’d have Windows, or at least something quite close to it.
Sure, it would offer a way to break from the past. It would mean all that legacy code could go away. But it would also mean that all our existing software would be stuck. The odds of such an idea going anywhere are comparable to BeOS taking over the planet.
So the browser will never become a new platform. At best it will become the ultimate in chewing gum and bailing twine platforms. What a nightmare!
The only way out I can see is a browser that directly embeds .NET or the JDK, and provides programmers in those virtual machines access to a decent document object model akin to what Microsoft is creating in Avalon or XAML. But there too, we’re just recreating Avalon itself inside a browser rather than in Windows itself. Why would we want to be restricted to some arbitrary browser window when we can have the whole OS experience?
So in the end I see little hope for the browser-as-a-platform concept – but I am sure there’ll be people who do see it as a good thing and who see Firefox and an IE upgrade as a way to rid themselves of traditional rich clients… Such is life.