Expertise vs Scale

A little background:

I’ve dabbled a bit in web development and making your page doing look the same in different browsers is a pain. Most browsers, luckily, tend to ‘behave’ in similar ways when given instructions and even the differences eventually get ironed out in later versions.

But until they do, you’ve got to detect which browser your user has and call one of a few parallel (ie duplicated through hours of extra effort) implementations of your web page depending on the answer.

When you have not just a few different browsers, but also many many old versions of browsers out there, making a web page that substantially all web citizens can see and use is a time-consuming challenge.

Anyway, the worst offender in this respect is Internet Explorer 6. It’s notorious for interpreting instructions in a radically different way from other browsers and also for being incredibly long-lived.

So this announcement from Microsoft, that they’re auto-updating their browsers, is welcome. But what’s interested me is that this probably won’t solve the problem. To HN:

The article points out that MS will still provide blocking tools for companies. Corporations are the major source of IE6 browsers and I’m not sure this will have any impact on them. The best we can hope for is that high consumer adoption rates will force many more sites to drop IE6 support which might spur companies to finally test and upgrade.

One of the things that really blew my mind this year was a large ($40MM) software development project I became familiar with (a worldwide internal system for a multinational corporation) that concluded — in 2011 — and required MSIE 6. MSIE 6! Doesn’t even run on MSIE 7, much less any modern browser.
While I personally think that’s insane — if you are that specific (not to mention antiquated) with your browser requirements, why don’t you just code a native app? — I’ve also never developed software with a team larger than five, and certainly don’t know the nitty-gritty details about spreading the work over a dozen countries and hundreds of developers, the vast majority being low-cost Chinese and Indian coders. So I’m not judging (or at least I’m trying not to).
But my point is that Big Corporate just wants their freaky “web-based” apps to run predictably for the projected 6-year deployment timeframe and does not give one flying fuck about whether their staff can access the new hip and way-superior version of . Unless said had real business value to large enterprise, but then, if it did… it would probably support MSIE6.

I am persuaded by some of the recent arguments (John Siracusa’s maybe?) that both the innovation and the money in general-purpose computing industry have moved over to the consumer side of the equation, and that this change has put MS in a worse position than they’ve traditionally been in.

Very very interesting thread. The idea is appealing: that corporate customers who have built their own internal web-apps and aren’t interested in updating something that works just so their employees can use fancy new websites.

I don’t think that last point is on, though. I’ve tried to find the original material he’s mentioning but failed. I think that it is the case that consumer software are leaping ahead of corporate software, but I think it’s because of scale. Corporations build small-scale, customized solutions. These are going to always move slowly. It takes just as much effort to build something for 100m users (in the general Internets) as it does for 10,000 (in your little company).

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