First Microsoft shook up its search – next up: Internet Explorer

There were, and still are, a lot of naysayers about Microsoft’s recent reworking of its search offering and subsequent launch of Bing. Its impact on the whole search business was never expected to be earth shattering but it has surprised more than a few by gaining percentage points. One can’t be sure if it will continue to grow or not but it showed that the company can indeed shake things up.

As I was reading a post on Technologizer by Harry McCracken about the slipping of Internet Explorer’s market share it got me thinking about the same thing I had written about in the past when it came to search. In a post on my home blog back in January 2007 where I suggested that if Microsoft wanted to make headway in search it was time they started a search skunkworks project.

The idea was of putting together a very small core group of developers and keep the marketing department as far away as possible in the hopes that they could build something new and fresh. While they didn’t go that route with Bing they came pretty close and I think that they should do exactly the same thing when it comes to Internet Explorer.

End of the line

In effect I would suggest that IE8 should be the last Internet Explorer. Any browser from Microsoft that comes after should be a completely new beast with a new name, a whole new frame of mind. I say this because the Internet Explorer name has way too much negative ‘emotional’ baggage that is being carted along version to version. The only reason that IE has any placement on the desktop anymore is because it comes with the operating system.

Other than those wanting to test out each new version so they can write negative posts about it, or diehard IE users looking to upgrade. Hell I was a diehard IE user for years. Sure, I tried out Firefox (never have liked it), Opera, Safari and Chrome. It is the last one that finally got me away from IE and chances are I won’t go back; and I’m not alone. As McCracken points out in his post

But I assume that Microsoft would prefer to not only stop the bleeding but to get IE growing again. The only way that’ll happen is if users of other Windows browsers–Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari–switch to IE in measurable quantities.

What are the chances of that happening? Slim, I think. For Windows users, running anything other than IE represents a conscious decision to use a browser other than the default one their OS came with. Typical users of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari-for-Windows users all seem to be dedicated fans of their browser of choice. And once you’ve found a browser you’re comfortable with, the incentive to stick with it is high. For all these reasons, any version of IE is going to need to be strikingly different and better to lure expatriates back.

Why a skunkworks project?

One of the biggest problems that Microsoft has created for itself is that because of the ingrained nature of Windows and IE their software has to be backward compatible to the point that it becomes a bloated mess of code. If they were to start fresh it would have to be with the internal understanding that this is a complete fresh start – no dragging any code from IE forward. If they were to do this and word got out I think you would see a lot of corporate businesses become worried because of the in-house investment they have in using IE.

This in turn could exert pressure on Microsoft to re-consider and that would kill any chance of a fresh start. Make no mistake Microsoft has to do something when it comes to a browser. Internet Explorer is becoming an albatross around their neck and will continue to lose ground in the browser world.

So any initial work on a new browser would have to be done very quietly. There are a lot of people who would question whether or not Microsoft could do something like this on the quiet but just look at Windows 7 and Bing to see that they can do it. We might have known Windows 7 was coming but unlike previous versions of the operating system next to nothing was known about it until Sinofsky said so. We might have been hearing something about Kumo, the codename for Bing, but we didn’t find out much about it until they were ready.

Time to send Trident to the bottom of the ocean

Now assuming for the sake of discussion Microsoft did decide to take the plunge and work on a completely new browser. The first thing I would suggest doing is to ditch the Trident rendering engine at least as far as the browser is concerned. They have been using Trident for as long as there has been an IE but I would strongly suggest that they switch to using WebKit as the basis for the browser.

I suggest this for a couple of reasons. As I wrote previously one of these reasons is

If you consider that by moving to the WebKit engine Microsoft would be giving an incredible boost to an open source product as well the number of developers that would begin getting involved in making the engine better is huge. Consider that in this case WebKit would now be the default rendering engine being used in IE, Safari and Chrome – that means a shitload of developers are now available to improve the common engine. It would also leave Firefox out on its own and with it’s mortal enemy IE able to claim open source and compliance rights thereby taking away the major arguing point Firefox has for getting new users.

The effects of this kind of move would be a big public relations plus for the company. Microsoft has already been making moves to be a part of the open source movement but this would be a big step forward that would get a lot of people talking.

And that is one oft he other reasons why a move to using WebKit would be a key idea. The buzz that would surround the company as they launched a totally new browser based on the same open standards as two other major browsers would be immense. McCracken asked in his post what it would take for people to move to a Microsoft browser and stem the flow of people moving to other browsers as well as bring in new users. Well I think some thing like this would definitely fit the bill as an answer to his question.

Wrapping up

Internet Explorer (any version) is a pig with a lot of bad press surrounding it and I don’t believe that IE 8 or any future version of Internet Explorer will do anything to change that perception. I realize that any chance of anything I have suggested coming to fruition is probably never going to happen. It is also obvious that the company is losing market share in the browser world and that is something it can’t afford to let happen. Unfortunately I just don’t see Internet Explorer, now and the road forward, ever being able to turn things around.