Whether you believe the StatCounter hype from last month or not, everyone can agree that Internet Explorer market share is down from previous years. Chrome usage is creeping up, and changes in the market (such as tablet proliferation) are likely to continue the IE downward trend for the near future.
As a Visual Studio developer I see an equally disturbing trend for Microsoft – the loss of browser mindshare within the Microsoft developer community. My statistics are limited and subjective, but evidence suggests Chrome is staking out a major position on the MS developer desktop. For instance this blog (which is admittedly more focused on HTML than .NET recently) has a 10.5% Internet Explorer market share!
While IE may be down, I think there are things Microsoft can do to reverse their IE market share slide:
1. Make Friends
Apple. Google. Mozilla. Which of these pose an existential threat to Microsoft?
Microsoft should partner with Mozilla on basic web standards support and rendering technology. The loss of Mozilla would leave IE as the only major non-WebKit browser. By working with Mozilla Microsoft could position themselves as champions of an open web, save money by sharing development resources for non-competitive features, and help avoid a WebKit duopoly that works directly against their bottom line.
Look at the Google-WebKit relationship as a potential model for coopetition with Firefox.
2. IE6 was just a warning
You know how hard it was to get customers to stop using IE6? IE 7 only required a simple download. For many customers the move to IE9 or IE10 means a new operating system, which in the Microsoft world often means a new computer. The potential ill will for Microsoft caused by this segmentation of the IE space is unprecedented. MS should kill this debacle before it materializes.
Also include support for standards-based tech like WebGL. If Chrome, Safari, and Firefox can run WebGL on a Microsoft operating system, Internet Explorer should too.
3. Go Faster and Slower
Reestablish a technical leadership position that makes developers want to develop for Internet Explorer. This will involve a move to implement web standards faster, requiring more frequent IE releases. Chrome and Firefox have shown that consumers and developers appreciate new features as long as they are easy/automatic upgrades to the browser.
But it is equally important for Microsoft to provide corporate customers a stable platform with established release timelines & patches. Avoid the Firefox debacle from last year. Don’t hit companies with the one thing they hate most- surprises. Stick with the MS patching schedule, and look at the Firefox Extended Release plan as a model for major releases– it balances the differences between corporate & consumer expectations.
4. Keep doing things right.
Microsoft gets their fair share of flack for Internet Explorer, but the company has provided a tremendous amount of value to web customers and developers . Internet Explorer 4 helped set us on the path to the modern web standard. MS & IE were early XML supporters. They have recently open sourced much of their web-based technology stack as well. Microsoft has also worked hard to provide developer tools that take advantage of open web standards. Recent WinRt/Silverlight issues aside, Microsoft also has a record of open communication with their development community, and the best evangelist/outreach program you will find. So change to adapt, but don’t lose the things that have made Microsoft a formidable competitor in the browser & developer space.