Is it Just That I’m Crazy as a Firefox?

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Proving once and for all that I have zero ability to predict what posts will generate the most commentary, my “Crazy Like a Firefox” post – which I treated as something of a throwaway, off-the-cuff entry – has generated a ton of interesting commentary and responses. What follows are some of the more interesting.

The best source is the original post itself, which has some very insightful commentary from some smart folks, Bruce Morgan from the IE team included.

But elsewhere on the interweb you can find the following:

Aaron Vance

  • “Just today, I read this post over on tecosystems and his speculations on Microsoft’s strategy with IE – and interestingly enough Bruce Morgan from the Microsoft IE team makes several comments. In one he says to the author, ‘go ahead and make the argument that the browser is still strategically important to Microsoft’ and ‘I agree that IE is a strategic platform for Microsoft. Browsers are important because browsing is what people do. It’s not more complex than that…

    A lot of people have lambasted Microsoft for Internet Explorer and its lack of ‘innovation’ and ‘features’. They point to Firefox and the strides it is making in making a better, more innovative, safe browser for the internet. The problem is – they’re right. But that’s not really the problem because what I am going to reveal to you now is Microsoft’s ultimate secret. And it is this exact idea and its lack of discussion that concerns me. It really doesn’t matter that Firefox is better/safer/faster/etc. than IE because Microsoft is going to reinvent browsing. Yes, I said browsing. Not just the browser. Browsing.” (link)

Very interesting commentary. I don’t, however, believe that this is a secret at all. Microsoft’s desire to reinvent the browsing experience via Avalon and other technologies is actually the primary justification for my explanation of not only their past behavior but the reasoning they might use to strategically cede some browser share to Firefox. One question for Aaron and the rest of the ‘Softies to ponder – does browsing need to be reinvented?

Ben Reichelt

  • I love this idea from Stephen O’Grady (via Scoble), Microsoft definitely has a chance to surprise people here, they should take advantage. (link)

Ok, I had to throw in the token supporting commentary 😉 Back to the dissenters. The following are some selected quotes from this Channel 9 thread:


  • I used to think the same as that article. However, I realised there are problems.

    The reason why Microsoft went after Netscape in such a way was not really because it was the dominant web browser but more because of their plans to turn Netscape into an application platform/operating system of its own. That was the threat, not the fact that it was a piece of software to browse the web.

    It seems, and I believe its a wrong way to go, that Mozilla.org wants to push in the same direction by taking on Microsoft with their XUL-based web application platform. That destroys any idea of a tie-up between Firefox and Microsoft. Unfortunately. (link)


  • Thats hardly a reason for MS to embrace firefox. Why do they want to go cross platform? That means less people buying there OS. You are suggesting they do somthing for free, on an open source project, that could damage there sales. Not going to happen.


  • Haven’t we seen all this before?

    I have used firefox and shock, horror… it’s just an Internet browser … woooooow … my world is shaking.

    Erm, but I’ve got one of those, infact it was free too, it came with Windows. Why should I switch? Don’t give me some techno-babble reason because I won’t be interested or a talk about standards because the websites I use all see to work just fine.

    Do I sound arrogant? Yes you are right and I apologise for that, but you can see the issue, the man in the street isn’t really going to give a darn about Firefox unless it gives him an advantage that IE doesn’t have, so far I can see the killer feature?


  • I’ve been using Firefox for a month now. Yawn. The only reason why I keep it is that I am too lazy to uninstall it and figure out how to export my new bookmarks back to IE.

    The only “killer feature” is that Firefox is billed as “safer” without having to have its preferences set up a certain way (like IE). That’s what will get mom and pops to download and install it. Most of the techno-elite who strongly tout it seem to be the ardent anti-microsoft-at-all-costs-show-no-mercy types and they will rally around any app no matter what it is, even a lowly browser, if it is not from Microsoft. Personally, I would greatly welcome a real killer feature in Firefox or any browser for that matter; one that pushes the envelope instead of just “reinventing the wheel” with some “bells and whistles” (like tabs, rss feeds).

Interesting stuff, though it’s done little to persuade me that my notion’s flawed. Impossible, perhaps, but not flawed.


  1. I think Aaron Vance's post is a pretty optimistic view on Avalon. There is massive universe of content built for today's web browsers. Reinventing browsing simply isn't possible. What ever comes next is going to have to be iterative and backward compatible.

  2. I think what people have to remember about Firefox is that people will switch because 1) it has some technological advantages and is newer, and 2) it has a great coolness factor. So forget about "IE is free" and "Firefox is free" as any sort of reason to equate them. A combination of cool and useful will generate a lot of buzz and help win marketshare. Whenever MS gets around to "redefining browsing" they may find people are already somewhere else and perfectly happy.


  3. i'm with Bob. and actually, i think the most impressive part of the Firefox experience thus far – which few have mentioned – is the extensions. leveraging the community, Firefox has delivered a svelte, quick browser that you can turn into an IRC client, an FTP client, a Gmail notifier, a Google enhancer, a del.icio.us poster, etc.

    the other common argument made – certainly by the IE folks, as well as Mary Jo Foley within the past few days – is that security's the predominant reason people switch. i don't agree with that at all. i know very few if any consumers who've switched platforms, applications, or browsers for security reasons – ever.

    Windows has had security issues for years, and few have felt compelled to switch. ditto IE in the past, when Opera was a lackluster option.

    but give them new, better features and a bit of cool, and they'll switch in droves.

  4. oh, and Christopher: i'm actually reserving judgement, b/c i never count the Redmond folks out, having heard too many times from my parents that "why would we ever pay more for broadband" only to have them find it to be a revelation.

    the difference between improving browsing and bandwidth, however, is substantial, as one simply improves the existing experience and the other significantly alters it. change, particularly for users easily intimidated by technology, is usually bad.

    so while i'm not counting Avalon out, i'd say i'm closer to the skeptic end of the spectrum.

  5. Stephen – I realize it's not really a secret – but the big picture connection between Avalon, etc. and IE isn't being touted as much as it should.

    Does browsing need to be re-invented? See, I don't think it necessarily needs to be re-invented, but my feeling is that it's going to happen inherently. Call it more of a progressive evolution rather than a reinvention.

    If you take a step back and ponder where "browsing", web-apps, the web itself are all today — I think many of us would like to hope that there could be more – the next step forward. (Richer user experience/data manipulation on the client, etc.) We're sitting on decade old "technology". There are many ways to skin the "rich experience" cat at the moment – but I think Microsoft is going to push it to the next level by making it a single, code-once platform – which makes it more compelling for developers on both OS/traditional clients + web.

    I think the reason they'll actually go for it is that it'll be based on existing "standards"… fully leveraging what is out there of the web technologies and fully, and finally converging the "web" into Windows. Applications will essentially have no visible execution boundaries per se.

    The thing about this change is that it's just going to happen. Kind of like Active Desktop in IE4. Yeah – that never really took on, but it definitely evolved into what we have in terms of "web/html support" in Windows now (explorer, desktop etc.) However, I think with a concious eye on security, along with the hotness of *ML-convergence, etc. that this could actually stand a really good chance of succeeding – and thus, re-inventing the web and browsing itself – as it moves from a more static markup to a dynamic graphical-application experience.

    HTML/CSS/etc. will always maintain "backwards compatibility" – but its like migrating from coax-cable to HD-TV. You *could* still view a webpage coded in HTML… OR, perhaps you could use the enhanced HD-HTML version they provide. (This doesn't mean dual-coding for multiple audiences – the development tools will handle all this…) For purely informational pages – maybe pure-HTML will still make sense. But for any kind of rich user-interaction sites… pushing a richer platform makes sense. Amazon as application, rather than amazon as website.

    This is where services really start to fit into the picture. I still tend to think of the interweb as a "single application" affair. You launch a browser and you navigate around in and through content. But I don't see why it can't extend further to include these futuristic web-applications that act and feel like Windows/OS-client apps – but use the web as transport more and more. Linking and navigation still occur… but in new ways. It could still be contained within a common "container" to keep it "single-application" or something. Although this isn't a requirement, it's just more of an extrapolation. The web doesn't have to be a single-app affair. The interaction of the information and data via "web services" will become the de-facto "linking" we begin to see.

    Nice discussion…

  6. Aaron – thanks for the further explanation. you raise some excellent points, though predictably, i'm still skeptical. at the core, i believe that browsing can indeed get richer – but i see Gmail as the ideal, rather than client side apps.

    many of my client side applications can access the network today – Microsoft Money or Quickbooks, to name a few. but having everything in the same shell – the browser – to me is preferable to having multiple clients everywhere that have connectivity. i'll reserve judgement until i see it fully fleshed out, but i see the rich-client replacing the browser story as highly problematic.

    and further, i think the "Applications will essentially have no visible execution boundaries per se" bit from your comment – while exciting from a developer standpoint, is terrifying from a security perspective.

    as miguel says here (http://primates.ximian.com/~miguel/archive/2004/Sep-09.html) "Bruce Schneier has a good introduction to attack trees. The core is that in any system that is to be secured an attacker only needs to choose the weakest link. In this case, Avalon's ClickOnce just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Imagine Outlook viruses gone wild."

    basically, i think we agree that the user experience certainly has room for improvement, i think we differ on the where, how, and how much.

    my bias, as always, is towards the simple because it's my belief that over the longer term that's what successful. but maybe Avalon is the exception to the rule. or perhaps you're arguing for a level of simplicity that i'm not seeing.

    great use of "interweb" BTW – i use that constantly 🙂

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