I've seen a number of interesting posts today in response to the news
Microsoft will end support for Internet Explorer for the Mac ths year. The best posts have been from people who used to work on the product.
Jorg Brown has a comment on Slashdot entitled
I was on the MacIE 6 team when it got canned... which
contains the following excerpt
MacIE had one of the strangest and saddest histories I've seen, of any
MacIE 5 was an awesome release, critically aclaimed and
everything, with a good development team and a strong testing team, that
included daily performance measurement.
And yet, almost immediately after
5.0 was released, the MacIE team was redeployed to work on a set-top DVR box.
The notion at the time was that the team would continue to do MacIE work in
their spare time, since IE 5 was the leader among Mac browsers and no longer
needed a full-time team.
The problem with that notion was that WebTV, the
team's new bosses, had no reason to actually schedule any time for real IE work.
So later, when that particular set-top box got cancelled, the IE team got
redployed for other WebTV work, and since this was now out of MacBU's control,
nothing could really be done.
3 or 4 years went by before enough people
in the Mac division wanted to resume work on IE, and when it looked like we
might actually need the technology, as a base for MSN-for-Mac, the IE 6 team was
formed. It got a firm OS X-only foundation, a new even more complient browser
base, and then suddenly it became apparent that Apple was doing their own
browser, because, well, there were lots of small clues, but the big clues was
that Apple had started calling the old Mac IE team offering them jobs.
that time the Mac division had formally committed to MSN-for-Mac-OSX, so it's
not like we were completely going to stop work. But a meeting was held
internally, the outcome of which was that it didn't make sense to build our own
browser if Apple was going to bundle one, because the marketshare and mindshare
of the distant-second-place browser, on the distant-second-place platform,
wasn't worth pursuing. A week later we had a meeting with high-up people at
Apple, where they told us they were doing a browser. And the week after that,
after confirming it with Bill Gates, who was reportedly sad but understanding of
the decision, MacIE was officially shut down.
MSN-for-MacOSX went ahead,
and was also critically acclaimed, but once released, indications were that the
number of users was about the same as the number of developers. After that,
MacBU concentrated once again on the next Office release, and MacIE has been
well and truly and permanently dead ever since.
Over the whole sad
journey, the single most surprising thing I ever discovered was from a small
conversation that went:
Me: "Look, if it makes sense to devote dozens of
people to WinIE, then surely it makes sense to devote half a dozen to
Higher-up: <confused look> "There aren't dozens of people
on WinIE. WinIE had some great people on it! We need those great people on
products that make money!"
Me: "Then why on earth did we pursue IE in the
first place? Just so that the DOJ would sue us?"
Some day I hope to get a proper answer on our motivation to do
WinIE and MacIE in the first place. It seems to be that we were scared of not
having control of the HTML standard. And indeed, now that Firefox is gaining
traction, Microsoft has added more people to WinIE again.
Jimmy Grewal also has a blog post about this entitled End of an era: Mac Internet Explorer where he writes
This announcement has sparked some debate on Slashdot,
which was inevitable. Omar pointed me
to a comment
to this by our former co-worker Jorg Brown,
who now works for Google, which I’ll quote
... [see above excerpt]
A lot of what he says is true; but the story is more complex than this and
there were many other factors that came into play. Issues which he doesn’t
cover…primarily because he wasn’t working on the product much until the last few
months of development:
- Mac IE was the first real browser running on Mac OS X. We had it running
on Developer Preview 2 and it shipped on the Public Beta CD-ROM. That was a
great engineering achievement but it came at a very high price. Developing for
OS X in those early days was a nightmare and we spent so much time struggling
with OS bugs and changing APIs that precious time that could have been used to
improve the product was wasted just trying to maintain compatibility with each
new beta release of OS X.
- Apple was a pain in the ass sometimes. For a company with such great PR,
they really were very unprofessional and treated developers poorly. I know that
the OS X transition was tough, but there are so many stories I could tell of
stupidity at Apple and policies which made no sense…but I won’t. I’ll just say
that Apple had a lot more involvement in the development of Mac IE and it’s
eventual end than Jorg gives them credit for. There were times during the last
two years of working at Microsoft that I really hated Apple’s management…which
was very difficult for me being such a loyal fan of their products and having so
many friends who worked there.
- No clear direction from our management was the last major factor which
Jorg touched upon but is important to mention again. Towards the end, we had
some major changes in management at the MacBU and the new team was inexperienced
both with the products they were managing and how to deal with Apple. They were
further handicapped by lack of clear direction by our execs who were too busy
worrying about AOL, the DOJ, and our stock price.
The common thread in both perspectives is that management at Microsoft
didn't see much value in continuing with IE on the Mac. Jorg doesn't
seem to understand why but the reason seems clearer to me.Microsoft is
a platform company. We have built the most popular software platforms
on the planet; Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.
In the 1990s, two technologies/products attempted to take the place of
Windows as the world's #1 developer platform. These
technologies/products were the Java platform produced by Sun
Microsystems and the Netscape Navigator web browser produced by
Netscape. Microsoft met both challenges in a variety of ways including
making sure that Windows (a) was the best platform to run Java
applications and (b) had the best Web browser on any platform. The goal
was simple if Java or the web browser became the platform, then that
platform would at the end still be a Windows platform. Of course, some
other decisions Microsoft made with regards to competing with Sun and
Netscape landed the company in court with billions of dollars in fines
Fast forward to the early 2000s, the browser wars are over and IE is
the world's dominant Web browser. In an almost text book example of how
monopolies work, Microsoft abandoned innovation in IE in a move that
showed that at this point IE was considered a cost center not a revenue
generator. It simply doesn't make business sense for Microsoft to
invest in a technology that dintermediates it's most popular platform,
the Windows operating system. This should sound familiar to you if
you've read The Innovators Dilemma.
It's now the mid-2000s and the Web browser landscape has changed. Technologies such as DHTML and IXMLHttpRequest which were invented by Microsoft to make IE the best developer platform on the Web have been adopted by competitors like Google and rival Web browsers like Mozilla.
Despite our best efforts, the Windows platform is being routed around
and even worse it is by technologies we invented. In this case
Microsoft has been hoisted by its own petard.
These developments have caused renewed interest in IE [at least on
Windows] by Microsoft which is why I went from two years of being a Microsoft employee and not
believing an IE team existed to reading the IE blog which makes it seem that there is now a veritable army of developers working on IE. The
only problem is that I expect that history will repeat itself. What
happens when IE reaches feature parity with Mozilla? Will we have to
wait until Windows Blackcomb
until we see Internet Explorer 8? Given how Microsoft [and specifically
the Windows division] works this isn't as crazy an idea as it
I can think of two ways to prevent history from repeating itself. The
first is that Microsoft officially disbands the IE team after IE 7. The
second is that Microsoft transfers the IE team to a product group that
actually depends on browser innovative to make money such as
Windows Live. We haven't innovated in the browser for almost a decade.
IE 5 was the last truly innovative release. Ex-IE team members like
Scott Berkun who wrote the classic How to build a better web browser
show exactly stagnant the world of Web browser innovation has been this
century. Given that Microsoft views IE as a defensive option to make
Windows an enticing product, there is less incentive to make it the
ultimate browsing experience as products whose bread and butter is the
Web browser. Why do you think there are so many Google employees working on Mozilla?
Microsoft should either cede innovation in the Web browser to
Mozilla/Google or make IE more than just "icing on the Windows user
experience cake"by transfering the product to a team whose bottom line
depends on browser innovation. Of course, I doubt that my words will be
taken seriously by folks at Microsoft [except as a reason to send my
boss or his boss angry mail] but this needs to be said.