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RoboProg's / Software Development

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Aug 27, 2009

Revenge of the Microsoft

One of the great things about web development is the ability to work on good old reliable *nix stacks, without having to worry about any of that nasty Microsoft stuff, right? Well, almost.

Enter ECMAScript, er, Javascript. Even as recently as 4 years ago, I used to run my web browser with Javascript turned off. I have since accepted my fate, and now run with it enabled. I've even had to maintain and write some of it (e.g. - the "preview" function on this site, as well as sundry stuff at work).

So, widespread use of Javascript, particularly to support AJAX, is here to stay. This brings us to the "cross browser compatibility" problem. Of course, what this largely means, to slightly oversimplify, is: your scripting has to work on

Now, of course the majority of users are running the foul beast that is Internet Exploder, in some incarnation or other (e.g. - the version installed on their PC when they bought it). So, if you are going to use javascript and AJAX at all, this typically means you have to make it work in MSIE, or at least degrade in a tolerable fashion. OK, so not much news there.

So, my question is: what is Google doing with Chrome?

One of the big features in Chrome is the Just-In-Time compiler to speed up Javascript within the browser. This to me seems like a big gamble: unless they get most people to stop using MSIE altogether, then people will still just be writing javascript, which will still somewhat work on MSIE, which means there will be an expectation to keep making it work on MSIE, which means Microsoft will still be at liberty to drag down any web application that uses a modern user interface. Now, I realize that Google does not have to "kill" Microsoft, but this still let's MS dictate what a web application can and cannot do. Google still will not be able to improve the web browsing (and application) experience much, beyond making it faster, unless Microsoft allows it.

The role I see for Microsoft in this is to delay, and run down the clock. They want to keep people from migrating to web applications (whether hosted on an external service, or installed on an in-house server) as much as possible. However, they have to keep their browser from sucking so badly that too many users get fed up and simply install a better browser. When that happens, the game is pretty much over: few who bother to install another browser are going to go back to MSIE.

Given a browser or browsers using HTML N+1 (no, it does not exist, yet) supporting a nice set data entry and display widgets and newer multimedia capabilities, it does not seem too hard to imagine a world where one could simply order an appliance that serves up an office suite and document repository, maybe even with a defined document format supported by multiple vendors.

So what should Google do? Maybe they should start a promotion for Chrome, like Apple would do a promotion, stressing increased security. Then, maybe when you hit the Google home / search page, offer up a few links, at the bottom of the page, to several browsers that would work on the user's machine (depending on the OS detected), including, but not limited to, Chrome. Assuming most of these browsers do an auto-update, the new HTML specs would soon be available (given some lag time for corporate IT screening and approval processes). Once a certain market saturation point is reached, it's game over for Microsoft and its Internet Exploder browser.

In the interest of full disclosure: I am biased against Microsoft. I have had to use their software, particularly OS and development tools, several times in the last 20+ years, side by side with competing products. They have a strong brand, not the best products. If MS Office (for work) and Media Player / Silverlight (for Netflix) disappeared, I could largely avoid having to ever run Windows. So, that's my selfish interest in this. And, as a Linux user (when possible), I cannot even run Chrome yet, though I am pretty happy with Firefox.

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Copyright 2009, Robin R Anderson