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April 18, 2006

Misunderstanding the browser wars

Trust a bunch of management consultants to take hold of a complex situation, throw it through their simple minded BS filters, and completely miss the point about the "browser wars"

There some marvelously incorrect statements that could have been verified with, you know, like Google, masquerading as arguments, try this on for size:

"Firefox and Camino claim only a small market share, and those users are on the tech-savvy end of the user spectrum. In particular for Mac-centric browsers, we still live in a PC-dominated world. Until IT managers in large enterprises are willing to support these browsers, they will not hit the mainstream in any major fashion.
Why won't an IT manager support these versions? The biggest headache with these browsers is that the majority of Web sites are optimized on IE. Try going to some of the major commercial airline sites, or to the Web sites of older and smaller companies. If you use Firefox, sometimes you will find missing menus, missing pictures, links that don't work, etc. Even Netscape doesn't work with all of our Harvard Business School applications"

There is so much nonsense in that one paragraph, where does one begin?

"Firefox and Camino claim only a small market share" is not even true for the entire market of web browsers, and particularly untrue not just for technically oriented sites, but more generally sites skewed toward younger adult user.

"The biggest headache with these browsers is that the majority of Web sites are optimized on IE". I'll leave the rather clueless use of the final preposition alone, and observe that "the majority are optimized on [sic]" really matters very little in most situations. How often do people who use Safari or Firefox as their primary browser actually have to fire up IE to get anything substantial done? In my case, never. The only time I recall it even an issue in the last 18 months was an insurance site which insisted I "upgrade to" IE6 to use their site. Missed several hundred sure fire dollars there.
But my point is not to harp on about the usual hand waving and half accurate observations. It's a bigger and far more important one.

IE did not win the browser wars, despite for a long time dominating market share. No one will ever win the browser wars, because the game is over. Standards won the browser wars. A handful of geeks few people have ever heard of, at the W3C, and the WaSP, and Mozilla and in their own workplaces, and user groups, and among their peers made supporting web standards the only game in town.

Mature industries rarely have the kind of utter dominance by a single player that IT and the Web have had with Microsoft. They have a plurality of suppliers, and manufacturers. Because mature industries have standards, which don't throw up huge technical barriers to entry.

We don't go to different filling stations to buy petrol for different makes of car, or buy different televisions to watch different stations, or (not yet) different players for the music we buy. Mature industries aren't like that.

The web has taken huge steps toward maturity in the last 4 or 5 years, and in many respects it's probably more mature than the overall PC industry, ironically, where one proprietary pseudo standard dominates not simply operating systems, but applications (i.e. Office).

Well done you nameless geeks. What will we do next? Pharmaceuticals look ripe for the plucking.

April 18, 2006 | Permalink


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