Thursday, March 17, 2011

Internet Explorer 9 is Great, But is it Too Late?

Microsoft has successfully delivered its best Internet Explorer ever, IE9, but I have this nagging feeling that it may be too late.

Let me put it another way. Imagine you're having a delicious piece of apple pie and you realize that the only thing that would make it better is an ice-cold glass of milk. Someone goes out for milk, but by the time it arrives, you've already finished your pie, cleaned the plates and left the room. Today, I'm wondering if Internet Explorer 9 is that cold glass of milk.

With 40 million downloads on the beta and release code and another 2-million-plus since launch, Internet Explorer 9 is shaping up to be a success. There are hundreds of millions of Windows users in the world, and I bet many will want to download IE 9 (Windows XP users can't run IE 9. There must be a lot of frustrated netbook owners out there today.) With all those potential customers, why am I worried? Heck, why should Microsoft be worried?

Blame the iPad

We're entering a "post-PC era," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told a packed auditorium as he unveiled the iPad 2 last month. I was in that audience and thought it a bold statement. Jobs is, however, at least partially correct. Things are changing fast in the PC space. There are still millions of PC users out there, but the activity, excitement, innovation and interest is on mobile devices—devices that don't require a mouse and keyboard. On the other hand, "PC" equals "Personal Computer," and the iPad is clearly a computer and also very personal.

I suspect, though, that Mr. Jobs was really trying to use "PC" as a synonym for Windows computers. In that case, this all gets more interesting and brings me back to my concern about Internet Explorer. You see, Jobs is right: Windows and the software that runs on it, including Internet Explorer, is becoming less interesting by the minute. First of all, all the latest browsers now look and work the same (I challenge you to, at a glance, tell the difference between IE 9 and Firefox 4 RC). Secondly, they're largely irrelevant for the hottest gadget space: Tablets. Let's look at some of the top products:

The iPad 2: It runs Apple's iOS, Safari, and virtually no Microsoft client-based software.

The Motorola Xoom: This Android 3.0-based device has a Linux core and its own browser client.

The RIM Playbook: It's also running a new mobile OS, QNX, and also has its own home-grown browser software.

The HP TouchPad: The first and possibly most important Web OS device is not running Windows and will have another unique browser.

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