In his post The Great Microsoft Blunder, John Dvorak claims that Microsoft made a huge mistake by linking Internet Explorer to Windows. While I agree with much of what he says (Microsoft has taken an enormous number of hits due to Internet Explorer), as a Windows developer, I have to respectfully disagree with his conclusion:
“Microsoft should pull the browser out of the OS and discontinue all IE development immediately…People will not stop buying Microsoft Windows if there is no built-in browser.”
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the way Microsoft embedded the browser into Windows was sloppy. I still wince when I think about the support problems I had with HomeSite that were caused by new versions of Internet Explorer updating important system files such as comctl32.dll. And don’t even get me started on the anti-competitive ways in which Microsoft negotiated OEM deals regarding Internet Explorer, or the poor design decisions that have caused so many of the security problems that Windows users face. So, if we’re talking about how the browser was embedded in Windows, I agree that Microsoft blundered. But if we’re talking about whether embedding a browser in an OS is good idea, I say that it is (and Apple says it is, too).
What Dvorak ignores is the huge number of Windows applications that have benefited from the ability to embed a web browser. Microsoft has done a great job making it easy for developers to host Internet Explorer in their software, and this has been a good thing for customers. Think of all the software that relies on an embedded IE – not just commercial web authoring tools, feed readers, email clients, etc., but also the thousands of in-house applications that need to display web pages. This isn’t a minor point: millions of people rely on software that requires an embedded web browser, and in this regard, these people benefit from having the browser included in their OS.
(And yes, I know that theoretically you can embed the Mozilla engine in Windows software. The problem is, embedding Mozilla is a pain in the ass. I speak from experience: TopStyle provides the option to view your work in either an embedded IE or Mozilla (or
both at the same time), and despite the fact that the people who use the embedded Mozilla are in the minority, we’ve had far more support problems with it than we’ve had with IE.)
If Microsoft hadn’t included Internet Explorer with Windows, developers such as myself would have had a much tougher time providing customers an integrated browsing experience. And, of course, given that Microsoft has bundled IE with Windows for such a long time, there’s no way they could stop this practice without breaking scores of applications that depend on it.