IE9 is ie-mazing

Competition has been good for Microsoft's browser team

Internet Explorer appears to be having a Rocky moment: dismissed by many as a washed-up has-been, a mere shadow of its former glory, the browser has emerged from a regime of punching animal carcasses and running up and down steps to land some serious blows on its rivals.

In the past, describing a new Microsoft browser as "the best version of Internet Explorer yet" was like hailing somebody as the smartest member of N-Dubz, the best presenter on the One Show or the most interesting Sugababe: praise, yes, but praise so faint it's bordering on the sarcastic.

Now, though, it means something: IE7 was OK, IE8 was pretty good and IE9 is shaping up to be a genuinely excellent bit of software.

The secret, I suspect, is that like any fictional boxer, Microsoft needs a good thumping from time to time.

When IE6 shipped Microsoft had routed its rivals, and it was able to say "Well, that's the internet finished. Let's go to the pub for five years." If it weren't for Firefox, it's quite possible that the entire Internet Explorer team would still be AWOL.

We're seeing something similar with smartphones and games consoles. Windows Mobile? Flabby. Along comes Apple and Android, and all of a sudden Microsoft gets its mojo back. Xbox? Pwned by Nintendo's Wii, so Microsoft goes away and comes up with Kinect.

Whether Windows Phone or Kinect take off isn't really the point: it's that they're both examples of Microsoft getting its backside handed to it on a plate and the firm deciding to do something about it.

Hunger and fear

It's not just Microsoft. The secret to any tech firm's success is a combination of hunger and fear: hunger for success and fear of the competition. Without competition, firms fester: they release half-arsed products (or in the case of Internet Explorer for the best part of six years, no products at all), they don't treat their customers as well as they should and they don't bother investing in the future. Why should they when they don't need to?

Maybe we need to monitor tech firms more closely, and if a firm gets too successful and a natural competitor doesn't emerge, we should all agree to a boycott.

Imagine the stuff Apple would come up with if the entire planet refused to buy its stuff for a year, or what Google's search would be like if we all spent a year using Bing instead.

IE9 is great, but imagine what it'd be like if the development team hadn't had a half-decade holiday.


Liked this? Then check out IE9 beta vs Firefox vs Chrome: what's the best browser?

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.