The interwebs are ALIVE this morning with the fresh news out of Redmond.  A move that on the surface seems like a giant leap forward.  In reality though, it means very little.

Microsoft announced today that they will be updating everyone to at least IE 8 or 9.  This means that anybody that is running Windows Update will be automatically moved off of 6 or 7 and placed on either 8 or 9 depending on their platform.

Here is the official verbiage from the IE blog.

Today we are sharing our plan to automatically upgrade Windows customers to the latest version of Internet Explorer available for their PC. This is an important step in helping to move the Web forward. We will start in January for customers in Australia and Brazil who have turned on automatic updating via Windows Update. Similar to our release of IE9 earlier this year, we will take a measured approach, scaling up over time.

Only Australia and Brazil are mentioned here.  I wonder how they made that decision?  I suppose the rest of the world will be added in shortly after.  The command probably looks something like this…

push update –name “ie” –customer “world” –force –nowarn –reboot
 

That’s just my artists rendering.  It’s probably slightly different than that.

Given the IE 6 usage stats, I would have thought they might have started with China who still shows nearly 28% usage.

image

Source: http://www.ie6countdown.com

So what does this actually mean?  I have seen many people excited.  YES!  Modern browser for ALL THE WINDOWZ!!

While it’s great that Microsoft has taken step to try and get everyone on a safer, more standards compliant browser, this announcement means very little and here is why.

Enterprise Control

Usually the first thing enterprises do when they set up a new machine is turn off Windows Updates. IT departments want to control the updates and for good reason.  It’s difficult to support what you can’t control.  Microsoft even provides a tool for enterprises to block the IE updates if they are using Windows Update.

And do you know where most IE legacy users are?  I mean besides China.  In the enterprise.  The last UG meeting I was at speaking about HTML5, the most modern IE version being used was IE 7 when I polled the group.  Many were still on 6.  This was 4 weeks ago.

Enterprises have no intention of upgrading and this means absolutely nothing to them.  The security implications are played up big in the article from Microsoft, because this is virtually the only way to get large corporations to move to a different browser version.  Security takes priority over compatibility. 

Upgrading to a new browser version often means huge cost to the enterprise.  Since large business has invested so heavily in development on IE 6 and 7, it’s difficult to migrate the applications. Your entire ERP self service portal could cease to function unless you upgrade it and that’s an entire project in and of itself. 

It’s not about a browser, it’s about the business software that was implemented that won’t run anywhere else.

IE 9 Is Not Available For XP

IE  9 is a much better showing by Microsoft in terms of HTML5 abilities and a general show of goodwill on their behalf that they are serious about embracing and implementing web standards.

The problem is that it’s not available on Windows XP.

How much of the market does XP still account for though?  A good chunk.

image

source: http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_os.asp

Windows 7 adoption is clearly gaining momentum, but 32.8% is a lot of machines baby.  That’s 32.8% of people who don’t have the option to install IE 9.

They still have IE 8 though, right?

IE 8 Isn’t Much Better Than 7 For HTML5

image

That right there is the Modernizr output in IE 8.  If you aren’t familiar with Modernizr, it’s a feature detection library that tells you what the browser is capable of.  It puts a “no-“ in front of a feature if the browser doesn’t support it.

Just for a frame of reference, let’s look at the output from IE 9.

image

That’s a WHOLE lot better.  A few no’s in there, but quite a lot of stuff supported.

IE 9 does not run on XP.  XP Users must go to another vendor to get an HTML5 browser.  They cannot get it from Internet Explorer.  This forces people to go to something like Chrome or FireFox and as we discussed earlier, most people in the enterprise don’t have the luxury of using whatever browser they want.  They are going to be forced to use IE by policy.

The good news is that we can polyfill most of what’s missing in IE 8 without a whole lot of effort.

More Good News – IE 10 Looks Great!

Microsoft continues to make remarkable headway with IE in terms of implementing emerging HTML5 standards.  IE 10, while only available currently on the Windows 8 preview, has broad support for HTML5 and is really a strong contender in the modern browser space.  You can checkout what Microsoft is doing in terms of prototyping new features for HTML5 and what they are implementing on their labs site.

A Step In The Right Direction

It is definitely a step in the right direction.  The problem is that IE and it’s versioning is such a problem not only for users, but for Microsoft as well.  They cannot stop it and have to support it.  It’s really a pickle we find ourselves in with regards to emerging web standards and the state of the web browser.

Chrome has infinite versioning, or maybe “irrelevant versioning” is a better term.  It’s a browser that is constantly up to date.  It never has a chance to become an old platform that doesn’t port to newer versions.

The IE team has an aggressive release cycle ahead of them, but each version will be independently supported for 10 years.

Old IE versions are a problem. Microsoft's move to more aggressively upgrade users is a welcome improvement, but it does not fix the long-term cycle of IE adoption/obsolescence. Hopefully this is just the opening salvo to even more efforts from Microsoft to get the world out of the browser Dark Ages.


Burke Holland is the Director of Developer Relations at Telerik
About the Author

Burke Holland

Burke Holland is a web developer living in Nashville, TN and was the Director of Developer Relations at Progress. He enjoys working with and meeting developers who are building mobile apps with jQuery / HTML5 and loves to hack on social API's. Burke worked for Progress as a Developer Advocate focusing on Kendo UI.

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