Opinion: What Microsoft Must Accomplish in IE10

The new browser will have to take Microsoft into the HTML5 future of cloud applications and services. IE10 may become to Windows 8 what IE4 was to Windows 95/98.

Keeping an eye on browser market shares could get you concerned about Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The browser has been in a steady decline over several years. You could get the impression that Microsoft is almost oblivious to its market share losses, especially if you read blog posts by Microsoft executives that discuss the market share gains of IE. As strange as it sounds, Microsoft may have good reason to be happy about current browser market share trends. If we criticize Microsoft's inability to gain overall market share, we may be looking at IE from the wrong angle. IE10 does not have to revert IE market share declines immediately to be the success that Microsoft needs - at least, not in the short term.

Market Share Perception

Internet Explorer Market share is at about 55 percent if you believe NetApplications (NA), and at about 41 percent if you go with StatCounter (SC). The numbers may be very different, but both sources are painting a picture of rapid market share decline for Microsoft, while Chrome is picking up all that is lost by IE (and Firefox). Chrome certainly has the traction that is necessary to gain influence and control mindshare in the global browser market these days.

What is interesting about this trend is that Microsoft gives the impression that it does not care. Microsoft's Roger Caprioti, for example, blogs about IE market shares, but he picks a very specific and, conceivably, narrow segment - Windows 7 and IE9 - which is where IE grows.

Given the fact that IE9 has only about 8 percent of the browser market and Windows 7 has only 31 percent of the OS market (according to NA), this may seem a bit silly and is certainly easy to attack as a deceptive way to describe Microsoft browser success (or failure, depending on your view). If Microsoft has to resort to 8 percent of 31 percent of the market, the situation may be pretty desperate, right? Well, not so much. I would not describe it as desperate, but as a possibly gutsy move to regain mindshare and secure Microsoft's role in an app world that could be dominated by HTML5.

If we consider current Microsoft software (Windows 7, IE9) and realize that Windows 7 was really just a big effort to correct the (colossal) mistakes of Windows Vista and provide a bridge to a much bigger step forward (Windows 8), you could make the case that IE9 on Windows 7 is much more important for Microsoft than browsers on other operating systems (including Windows Vista and Windows XP). While Firefox and Chrome are picking up many "old" Windows XP users who are left behind by IE (which could be problematic for Microsoft in the long run), Microsoft is effectively modernizing its user base in preparation for the launch of Windows 8. At some point, Microsoft may have decided that it still has an interest in converting those IE6/IE7/IE8 users, but it may be more important to get Windows 7 users specifically to use IE9. In the end, Microsoft could not care less how much market share Google's Chrome has on Windows XP, especially if Windows 8 HTML5 apps require feature support that is well-supported by their own IE9 and IE10 browsers.

In that view, an 8 percent global browser market share for IE9 may not be as important for Microsoft as knowing that IE9 is the most popular HTML5 browser on Windows 7 with a 20.4 percent share, followed by Chrome with 18.3 percent and Firefox 6 with 13.2 percent. While IE9 could generally be seen as a train wreck that has failed to capture overall market share, it has done fairly well on Windows 7 so far and helped rebuild a reputation Microsoft lost some time ago. Most importantly, IE9 is a transitional browser that has created a playground for web developers and software engineers to establish a browser platform for HTML5 applications that are expected to surface in Windows 8.

IE10: The Big Task Ahead

My sources suggest that IE10 will become the browser to which IE9 has been leading toward. We will know for sure when IE10 Beta is unveiled, but I expect IE10 to be a significant step forward for Microsoft. It should keep and improve its fantastic hardware acceleration engine, and add more HTML5 support as well as some JavaScript enhancements. If Microsoft is playing a clever game, it will also add some proprietary features that could give IE10 an edge in dealing with Microsoft's cloud services, such as Office 365, as well as HTML5 applications that are added to the upcoming Windows App Store. The goal of such efforts being to achieve a result that is similar to Google's SPDY support, which has been integrated into Chrome and Google sites for some time now.

Microsoft will also have to make some tough decisions regarding web video format support, flash support, and, most importantly, the integration of Silverlight. IE10 is unlikely to shed Silverlight, but Microsoft will have to figure out a way how to gracefully integrate WebGL in IE10, as WebGL and the following WebCL are emerging as powerhouse animation environments for web browsers. I do not believe Microsoft will be able to ignore WebGL much longer.

As IE9 is focused on Windows 7, IE10 will be tailored to work with Windows 8 while being primarily tasked with the challenge of providing an easy upgrade path from one platform (Windows 7/IE9) to another (Windows 8/IE10). If we look at Microsoft's desperate situation with Windows Vista/IE7/8 just a few years ago, the aggressive move away from old platforms to newer software makes sense as there will be one or two IE versions which fully support web applications that leverage core Windows features to replace local desktop apps. You can always argue whether Microsoft should have included Windows XP users in the equation, but we have to be realistic and see that XP is now more than 10 years old and Microsoft has to move on to newer environments. In the end, it's a business decision.

IE10 will be able to build, in part, on the Windows/IE9 user base. Microsoft is likely to use IE10 as a vehicle to visualize the Windows 8 message and its new application model: IE10 will be one of the critical building blocks of Windows 8. It will be more successful, initially, if IE9 can capture significant market share in Windows 7. Of course, it would be beneficial if Microsoft were to find a way to automatically transition those users to IE10 when they upgrade to Windows 8. It is still a major problem for Microsoft that it cannot automatically upgrade the browsers of its users. Consider IE9 a strategy to build market share, while IE10 can take the foundation and get a head start on the future. In the end, IE10 will be Microsoft's most important tool to enable an HTML5 app opportunity in Windows 8.

  • Tyler_767
    This is probably just my many years of working at bestbuy but I just find it hard to believe only 55 percent use internet explore. I've dealt with so many dumb customers there is no way that half of them would even know what a browser is, let alone how to install and use a different one than IE.

    That browser choice window at the initial install of windows 7 must really be having an effect.
  • Though I have this issue of IE9 where it temporarily freezes on startup (even w/o any addons); I still believe that its still a big step forward for Microsoft when you consider the improvements over IE8.

    Chrome updates quickly and effectively- and Firefox followed the principle with slightly less success.

    I use Chrome for 70% and 30% for IE9.

  • I agree with the 2 comments above. IE 9 is a huge step up from IE8. I however, have issues with IE9 and also because im so familiar with Chrome, that I find myself disappointed when i use other browsers. IE10 should bring more competition to the table and that would be good for all users. Firefox! you can do it! Opera too!
  • leafblower29
    Increase reliability.
  • beayn
    Tyler_767This is probably just my many years of working at bestbuy but I just find it hard to believe only 55 percent use internet explore. I've dealt with so many dumb customers there is no way that half of them would even know what a browser is, let alone how to install and use a different one than IE. That browser choice window at the initial install of windows 7 must really be having an effect.
    I agree the users are really dumb, but it could be influenced by places such as my computer store. Every new build has a package for internet installed that includes Firefox, Flash, Java, Reader and a few others. We make Firefox the default browser and most people just tend to use that. Not sure if other stores do that, but it's possible.
  • pjmelect
    I wonder if IE10 will fix some of the things that IE9 broke such as attachments on windows mail on Vista.
  • CKKwan
    I want better Html 5 support.

    Faster Java Script execution.

    And yes, able to copy and paste item (especially images) from the web page to Outlook. Don't know why I can't do this anymore in IE9.
  • NightLight
    does anyone still use the bottom "status" bar?

    i want fullscreen browsing. no menu crap. let a menu drop down when i hover over the designated area.
  • Chrome is seamlessly updated every six weeks with major new features..good luck MSFT keeping up with that.
  • christop
    Doesn't matter to me as I don't use Internet explorer.