Another One Bites the Dust

by Joe Gillespie — Jul 1, 2003

Microsoft has officially announced that it is abandoning development of Internet Explorer for Mac (and the standalone Windows version too, but that's another story). Apart from some minor updates, there will be no IE 6 for Mac. Citing the success of Safari and the advantage Apple has in integrating the browser's codebase with the operating system, MS feel that they can no longer justify the development costs. Well, it's not surprising really as Safari wipes the floor with Explorer in just about every respect and playing catch-up could be very expensive indeed.

On the downside, some sites that work just fine in Explorer still fall over in Safari and that's something Apple needs to address. Older browsers were more forgiving of invalid code, newer ones are stricter.

When Internet Explorer for Mac was originally introduced as a free download, its main competitor was Netscape Navigator which you had to pay for. Apart from being free, Explorer had much better support for new standards. As far as CSS was concerned, Mac IE was way ahead of Netscape and indeed, of the Windows Explorer too.

Netscape eventually had to give up the idea of charging for Navigator but even that wasn't enough to stop Explorer from taking over completely. Apple originally shipped Netscape with Mac OS, then both and more recently with OSX, only Explorer.

For a long time, I designed my sites for Netscape on the basis that 'If it works in Netscape, it will work in Explorer'. Designers who worked the other way round usually found that their pages broke in Netscape. Thankfully, Netscape 4.x has all but disappeared off the map. Netscape 5 never made it and skipped to 6, which was too slow and buggy to take seriously. Netscape 7 is a very capable browser based on Mozilla 1.x but the latest settlement between Microsoft and AOL Time Warner, who owns Netscape, means that AOL will continue to ship Explorer as its preferred browser instead of its own product for the foreseeable future. This makes the prospects for Netscape, as a browser, look pretty bleak.

As I mentioned last month, Mozilla is about to take a new direction with Firebird but development like this requires funding. There is an expectation now that browsers are free and that's the big problem. Enthusiasm is all very well, but somewhere along the line, somebody has to pay the people who write the code.

Microsoft and Apple can afford to spend resources on browser development, they make enough money elsewhere. But what's going to become of all those other guys who have to try and compete on shoestring budgets? Which one will be next to bite the dust?

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