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IE is a 'compatibility solution', to be used selectively, warns Microsoft exec (zdnet.com)
75 points by bpierre 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

It's a profound irony that one of the companies whose web strategy is now badly affected by Microsoft's early-2000s monopolisation incompatibility efforts is .. Microsoft. It's as if Fairchild hadn't been able to move their HQ off their Superfund site and were stuck there complaining about the cost of employee gas masks.

I think what's ironic is everyone claiming Microsoft was going to ruin the web back in the day and ended up supporting the very parties that actually did end up ruining the web.

I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment. Old IE really did hold back technological progress for a long time. Who knows where we’d be today if not for that.

> Old IE really did hold back technological progress for a long time.

Seriously, IE5 or whatever was pre-installed on every Window OS and killed Netscape. It took years until Netscape release Mozilla. I lived through this era.

Microsoft back then was in the mindset that they were the gate keeper of PC through their OS. They did not want web applications that are OS agnostic.

I think the currently strategy right now for most company with the advent of web is wall garden + ecosystem. Give the user base enough tools, software and hardware, to depend on that it'll make it hard to leave.

Also, don't forget Microsoft Frontpage...

They did a lot of things that weren't approved by a standards committee but many of them were genuinely progressive. You can draw a straight line from IE4's DHTML to today's modern web apps.

DHTML: yes, with reservations.

ActiveX: no, a security nightmare and intended to tie users to Microsoft. It's still tying some corporate intranet users to IE6 compatibility.

But ActiveX is not enabled by default except for trusted zones. It is effectively not a problem.

>But ActiveX is not enabled by default except for trusted zones.

That (historically) was not always the case...

It's worth remembering that Microsoft had an explicit strategy to abuse standards in order to undermine competitors [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace,_extend,_and_extinguis...

I believe a lot of good things has come from Microsoft. But their business practices and extremely dominant position during the late 90s and early 00s was quite unpleasant IMHO.

It’s a totally different story now that Satya Nadella is CEO. I have a lot of respect for him and all the good news that has kept coming after he took the helm. I would go as far as to say that he saved Microsoft from eating itself.

I disagree profoundly, but that's because I work with Windows every day and Nadella has helped turn it into a horrible garbage fire of a product with no QA, user-hostile features, and a bunch of crap nobody asked for. Say what you will about Balmer, but Windows was a better product under him.

I hear ya. Windows 10 has it’s fair share of rough edges, that’s for sure. Personally I prefer MacOS X whenever I can choose freely.

When it comes to Windows though, the two main thing that makes me prefer Win 10 over Win 7 are these: a) WSL. For those not familiar with it let’s you run Linux binary executables (in ELF format) natively on W10. (And also on Windows Server 2019.) All (or nearly all?) packages from Ubuntu are available. Super neat, IMHO. b) Lots of handy Powershell cmdlets that are not available in W7. Let’s you configure printers, ACLs, etc via Powershell.

So for all its warts I wouldn’t want to revert to W7.

Undoubtedly a lot of the base components of Windows are better now, it's just that they're buried under a lot of crap, like the crappy new control panels that are slower and have fewer options, or the start menu that breaks if you sneeze too close to it and contains ads, or the forced updates that break stuff all the time.

Yeah don’t get me started on the Settings app. It’s a total train wreck. It could possibly take Microsoft years to sort it out.

Agree on all points.

Also ironic, 15 years ago what we were worried about all the content our browsers couldn't handle. Now the problem is all the content our browsers can't not handle.

You're presenting that as an exclusive choice when the correct answer is both. Microsoft absolutely was trying to subvert the web — they correctly perceived Netscape as a huge threat to Windows’ platform dominance — and they made numerous decisions to accomplish that, and then had roughly a decade where they were able to single-handedly stymie progress. Had the iPhone not been a hit, it probably would have worked, too — I supported web standards and Mozilla through that period but it really took executives having Mobile Safari in their pockets to get support for prioritizing compatibility with anything other than IE.

Who are those parties that actually did end up ruining the web?

I think they mean Facebook, google, amazon...

> "As you can see, by going with the 'technical debt by default' approach, we ended up in a scenario whereby if you create a brand-new webpage today, run it in the local intranet zone, and don't add any additional markup, you will end up using a 1999 implementation of web standards by default. Yikes."

Meanwhile, Outlook and Windows Mail are even worse than this, using the MSO renderer and editor (essentially: Word) in all versions except Outlook 2003 (in which version they switched to the IE renderer and editor, but then regressed to MSO in the next release for terrible reasons).

That MSO menace is unconditionally stuck in a buggy and incomplete implementation of 1997 web standards. (As an outsider, I say that it appears to have been treated entirely as a black box for the last two decades; I am aware of no changes beyond supporting high-DPI displays, if you wish to count that.)

And this is what they are still actively advocating for email.

I wish they would apply this same reasoning to the MSO renderer. I hate it and the decision to go back to it in Outlook 2007 with a passion exceeded by little in the tech industry. With it they have singlehandedly manufactured jobs for tens, nay, hundreds of thousands of software developers and hacks, and held back the entire email space with their stranglehold by at least a decade. It’s that bad.

One upside to that is people don't try to get too fancy with HTML emails. IMO, email would be much better off if it had never supported HTML. Things are getting worse with the current trend of supporting emoji in the subject. My gmail web inbox looks like a GeoCities page.

There are many people for whom the UI is the only reason they continue to use IE, so I wish MS would just take whatever new rendering engine they now have and give it the same UI that IE always had --- they would certainly win back a large portion of the userbase who are irritated by the combination of either the familiar and comfortable UI with sites that don't always work, or sites that work but an annoying dumbed-down UI. Edge was from the beginning looking too much like a horrible Chrome clone (which it is sort of turning into now...) Not happy with the browser situation in general these days...

There are also many people for whom ActiveX and NPAPI plugins are the only reason they use old browsers like IE.

A lot of investment went into niche contracted solutions that are built in Java and Silverlight, and contracting replacements is a huge cost in the face of some abstract cyber security mumbo jumbo. Hell, those guys are screaming about everything all the time anyways, what makes this browser thing any different? /s

You use a sarcasm tag, but your statement is essentially true. Ultimately it is most important to a business that it actually, you know, be able to do stuff, and if those 'cyber security' academics had their way then nobody would ever do anything because there'd be far too much friction involved. They forget that security is not an ends in itself, but exists in the broader context of doing things.

+1 for the browser situation nowadays. Sad state of affairs really.

Even if some young guy looked around on the Internet seeking to build a new browser, all you see is advice on not to do it and use existing libraries, engines. I'm not saying it's untrue but it's not surprising that browser situation ends up here when that's the widely accepted attitude. But then again, wonder what would have happened if Linus Torvalds listened and gave up on Linux.

For me the only use I have for IE is as a .net control to be able to access and manipulate the DOM in .net, for small web scrapping toy projects. I doubt the new Edge will be integrated as well as IE was (if integrated at all), so I will miss that when it is gone.

Check out Blazor[0], and you can touch the DOM through JS interop.

0: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/aspnet/core/razor-component...

I will certain look at Blazor when it has matured for creating websites, but I am not sure you can use it to scrap a third party website.

For web-scraping you could (for now) probably also use PowerShell with Invoke-WebRequest which runs the response through MSHTML, giving you fairly convenient access to various parts of the page as well as the complete DOM.

interesting. how do you do this?

Add a WebBrowser control (which is just a wrapper around IE), navigate to the page of your choice, then you can access the DOM with methods like

you can trigger javascript events or fill a form like:

   webBrowser1.Document.GetElementById("someid").SetAttribute("value", "login")
There are ways to embed Edge or Chrome in a .net application but you can't access or manipulate the DOM (or you have to inject some javascript, which is not as neat as being to manipulate it directly in .net).

it's funny i just started learning f# on linux and just last night ran into issues around add webbrowser as form control. thanks though i'll try this on windows

I wonder in these cases if an IE-looking/IE-behaving theme for firefox would do the trick; sort of best of both worlds?

When firefox switched to web extensions a lot of the UI modding methods were no longer supported. I doubt this would be a viable route.

Lots of shade being thrown at Microsoft, I don't think it's wrong to do that, but I also think that the real problem is being completely ignored -- corporate IT departments that demanded (still demand) IE due to some kind of "security policy".

A few of the places I've worked at had very strong policies about what software was installed on the corporate boxes, and IE was almost universally pushed due to "security reasons" even when it was widely known to be significantly less secure than any concurrent competing browser.

The thing I think about here is that the reason these enterprise websites are broken is not that they're compatible with IE, but that IE wasn't compatible with web standards, and thus sites were hacked at to fit within IE's brokenness. And now the entire world has moved to better conformance with web standards and organizations are stuck with what was an unsecure web browser years ago, and is getting even more unsecure going forward.

Corporate IT Security departments of old get the blame in my book. If they had simply said "nope, IE is not secure, it is not permitted on our systems" the world would literally be a better place. Instead they sent a strong demand signal that Microsoft simply fulfilled.

It isn't really about bugs in the application, it's that IE has fine-grained security controls and they are easily configured via GPO.

IMHO, MS should have rebranded Edge as IE and the current IE's name should have been "Legacy Internet Browser" or something like that at the beginning.

If one of their chief would say not to use IE, why MS would make it a virtually default browser at the beginning? (to be clear, most of South Korean websites were marked incompatible with Edge and forced users open those websites on IE when launching Windows 10.) MS was not brave enough so they did terrible marketing stretagy around Edge.

It is sad we lost one of few modern web engine.

Indeed. I for one was very excited about Edge and desperately wanted a new browser engine.

The same company that renamed Lync to Skype and then immediately replaced it with Teams.

How ironic that I read this at work in IE because I don't have any other browser

There are portable versions of all major browsers. So if it is admin rights stopping you...

At security-conscious organizations they will report unapproved binaries or block execution of anything which isn't on a whitelist.

I find it ironic that security-conscious organizations run outdated and insecure browsers.

Me too, but welcome to enterprise IT. There's a certain logic in some cases where it's also just tightly locked down so you avoid people hitting un-whitelisted parts of the internet.

Fine. Than this solution is only applicable in enterprises where people actually work.

Not everyone works the way you do. Some people have greater threats and compliance requirements and they are often making trade offs which are reasonable for that environment.

It’s worth it to not he’s not using this as an opportunity to push Edge, and in the article even recommends people to use any modern browser they choose.

People won't be able to "browse" a lot using IE much longer anyway. Slack, for example, seems to drop all IE support next month, and I don't think we'll have to wait as long as with IE6 this time before most apps drop support.

At our company we have a complete IE-no-no rule. No matter how much the client is willing to pay us.

Clickbait title. He didn't write "not a browser."

The original blog post is pretty reasonable:


Nor is he any sort of “security chief”

All aboard the Chrome train.

Firefox my dude. Has plugin support (uBlock) on mobile.

Quite, Any browser that doesn't use chromium is the correct choice. Monopolies are bad, and it's hilarious that people are celebrating one of the demise of one most destructive monopolies of the computing age with "just use $new_monpololistic_product, it will be different this time"

A lot of the same people decrying the Chrome monopoly never the less push for more and more bloat in the web standard, thus helping to enforce that monopoly by ensuring that hardly anyone has the resources to make a reasonable competitor.

Time to deprecate the web and start from scratch.

Doing so today would only result in a worse and more proprietary product, I suspect.

More proprietary than "basically Google just tells everyone how it's going to be"? Maybe. It'd be hard to make it worse though. What people seem to really want out of the web is a VM platform and a document layout engine, so why not design a new VM that is intended first and foremost to be an efficient application platform, and then make one of those applications an open source document layout engine? You don't have to be married to HTTP and all its woes either. You could even port a current "legacy" browser to it. And if that document layout engine is found to be lacking, we can make a new one without breaking everything because its just another application on the VM.

Hell, you could compile the VM with an HTML5/JS target and get forward compatibility too.

A worse standard is unlikely to win people over. Even a better standard is unlikely to win.

Take HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, remove 90% of the cruft. Now, include what people want like a much better table element that by default can handle Adaptive screen sizes etc etc.

Chromium and Firefox are open source so you can probably get support in them by writing the code yourself. But, good luck gaining traction.

You'll have a really very bad time deciding what is cruft on those.

No, but "click to play" for javascript would be a good start.

At least Webkit/Blink are open source and have multiple implementations. With that in mind, how do we distinguish between a "monoculture" and a "standard"?

I feel the same instinctive feeling that we're just going back to the IE days, but is it possible that having all browsers align on a single rendering engine could prove to be helpful rather than harmful?

Indeed. We should be able to split our browser choices freely between a duopoly!

About 5 years ago we had 4 browsers with significant share - IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari. Even 10 years ago Firefox had a decent impact over over 25% and IE was being brought down into the "managable" area of 50%ish.

I'm screaming on the inside. And using chrome because my phone doesn't have enough storage for another browser / I can't remove it.

Which is baffling: I find myself in a situation that Microsoft was fined for

uMatrix is the best at blocking all sorts of content. One can selectively enable and save preferences per website, and that is helpful since uMatrix tends to break websites using CDNs.


Unfortunately there are no extensions on iOS (I'm guessing due to Apple's policies).

The world already is:

Global market share held by leading desktop internet browsers

Chrome Safari

May '18 66.93% 5.48%

Apr '18 66.17% 5.48%

Mar '18 66.93% 5.37%

Feb '18 67.49% 5.42%


Yeah, let’s go from ‘designed for Internet Explorer’ to ‘designed for Chrome’!

That'd be an upgrade over edge. Remember, Safari and edge are coupled with the OS. Safari team and Edge team can't even push updates without blessing from the OS teams. Chrome, even on Android, does not have this problem. Ideally we'd have more people using Mozilla Firefox but in the world we live in, I'd prefer people use Google Chrome over Safari or Edge (even when edge switches to chrome).

It's really sad the WebKit has won. We're now back to single vendor.

With Firefox being the only independent rendering engine and that's been on a downwards trajectory.

A downwards user share trajectory, but an upwards technical one as of late. But yeah, it's pretty worrying that a webkit monoculture is developing. At least webkit is open source, so google won't really have a true monopoly (at least apple and microsoft will have competing (if still webkit based) implementations).

A downwards user-share trajectory, and a downwards reputation trajectory. I don't think that all the hate Mozilla's getting is deserved, but a lot of people didn't like that one easter egg, or the mess with Pocket.

I've been using Firefox continually since the first version. I don't recall any easter egg. Is it still in the browser?

There was a Mr. Robot easter egg that lots of people were angry about.[0] I didn't notice it either, though.

[0]: https://www.cnet.com/news/mozilla-investigates-mr-robot-fire...

That's crazy, people trust them to ship the entire browser, but adding an extension makes them untrustworthy.

What will those people say if they ever decide to break the browser into a core and user visible plugins?

The Webkit/Blink engine is far from being single vendor, they are vibrant open source projects with many companies that contribute to the development efforts, pretty much all browsers except for Firefox will be based on it soon.

Web developers would rather have a single good engine, assuming that it's good enough and continuously developed.

IE failed back when they all but ceased development for a number of years and since it was closed source nobody could take it over.

How has Webkit won? It's basically only used in Safari these days, right?

Blink is a WebKit fork and is used by everyone, from Chrome to Opera, and soon, Edge. Apple and Google have gone their separate ways, and will make decisions separately, so WebKit isn't really contributing to the Blink monopoly.

It's effectively the same as Blink which is used by Chrome, soon to be edge and any other popular browser.

Google certainly thinks so when they check the Firefox user agent on Android and give them a some cut down mobile version.

I just wish we could get all of our customers on board the "browser with non-security updates" train.

Let's not.

Google literally censors plugins they don't like from being loaded into Chrome. No.

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