The Wall Street Journal’s privacy series (call it “Cookiegate”) continues with a fascinating look at Internet Explorer 8. According to reporter Nick Wingfield, IE’s designers initially wanted anti-third-party-cookie settings to be the default, but Microsoft executives involved in online advertising smashed that notion.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Microsoft has pulled the online ad for Internet Explorer that showed a woman puking after viewing her husband’s apparently-disgustingly-pornographic browser history. The Journal quotes a Microsoft spokeswoman as saying that “While much of the feedback to this particular piece of creative was positive, some of our customers found it offensive, so we have removed it.” People offended by a browser commercial involving onscreen vomiting? Imagine that!
Me, I nominated the ad as a strong candidate for the honor of being the worst tech commercial in history. Lots of folks agreed with me; many said they liked it. It would be a boring world if everybody agreed on this stuff.
I assume Microsoft had an inkling that some people might feel…well, queasy…at the sight of the ad before it gave the spot the OK, and decided to run it anyhow. It’s certainly possible to do effective advertising that evokes strong reactions and doesn’t appeal to everybody. But maybe one of the lessons here is that it’s not a great idea to do so for a product with a customer base as huge and diffuse as the world’s most widely-used Web browser. Some products have the luxury of offending people they weren’t trying to cater to in the first place, but IE, by definition, is trying to cater to most everybody. (There’s a reason why you don’t see people retching in ads for, say, gasoline. Or paper towels.)
Of course, conspiracy theorists may wonder whether Microsoft’s game plan all along was to release a revolting ad that appealed to some people, get (ahem) bloggers to write about it, catch flack for it, and then withdraw it…
One more thought on why I didn’t like the ad, and then I promise I’ll stop: I’m not instinctively opposed to gross humor. I might have even liked the basic idea if it had been a scene in a well-directed, funny movie. (Hey, I’m a Monty Python fan.) But as a consumer, I regard advertising as a company attempting to initiate a business transaction with me. And so I react better to ads with a certain level of decorum and respect than ones that try to gross me out. (The bar isn’t that high–some people seem more creeped out by the other, vomitless ads in the series than I was.)
That’s just me; multiple reasonable commenters feel otherwise. But it’s fascinating to see how Microsoft had to get real-world feedback before they figured all this out.
[UPDATE: Peter Kafka of All Things D reports that the IE 8 ads were directed by Bobcat "Shakes the Clown" Goldthwait. That explains a lot right there...]
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 6:40 pm on Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Is an evening 5Words acceptable?
The renewed browser war resembles more of a game of leapfrog than the big-bang releases of the 1990′s when one version of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator could change the balance of power in the browser wars overnight. Google says that Chrome is now 30% faster with today’s upgrade. That matches a performance claim made by Opera in about its new “Presto” rendering engine.
Two months ago, the Mozilla Foundation was bragging about how much snappier Firefox 3.5 will be over its predecessor. Apple, and many recent benchmarks conclude that Safari 4 is the title holder of ‘world’s fastest browser,’ and Microsoft has introduced Internet Explorer 8 by performing benchmarks of its own.
Many of them have already have adopted parts of the upcoming HTML 5 specification–the lingua franca of the Web–even though it is far from being finalized. The working group responsible for it is open to breaking it up into smaller pieces.
For the first time in years, there is major innovation happening in the browsers due to increased competition. Opera has longo liked to play the role of innovator; now it’s matching wits against Apple and Google. Mozilla Firefox, the first browser to dent Microsoft’s seemingly immovable market share, is not longer the cock of the walk.
Not too long ago, it seemed as if browsers were maturing. All I can say, is that this latest round of competition is a very good thing for people who use (and create) Web apps, and those who care about standards.
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 10:35 am on Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Sorry, Twitter, you goofed here…
The standard “Express” installation of the Windows 7 RC does something I thought software had stopped doing years ago:
If you upgrade from a previous version of Windows, and choose the “Express” option when installing, your default browser will be changed to Internet Explorer. Needless to say, this behavior has immediately sparked complaints from Mozilla and Opera, and rightfully so, because it’s shady at the very least.
This sounds so cheesy that I wonder if it’s a unwitting gaffe by Microsoft rather than an intentional ploy. Can we all agree that this needs to be changed for the final version of the OS?
Posted by Harry McCracken at 8:48 am7 Comments
[UPDATE FROM HARRY: Smashing Magazine--which I like--has a wacky sense of humor. And maybe it's April Fools Day where it is, or close enough.]
Builds of IE 8.1 have leaked out into the wild, and while it is not going to be a release that users will notice much difference visually, underneath the hood significant changes have been made which will enhance the user experience.
Security is a big focus with this point release. The SmartScreen and Cross-site scripting filters are improved greatly. Whereas IE 8 successfully caught on average 75% of all occurences of malware and phishing, IE 8.1 has increased that to 96%.
The browser also adheres to web standards better than its predecessor, scoring a 71 out of 100 in the Acid3 test. For what its worth, my Firefox 3 browser on Mac also scores a 71 out of 100. So the two browsers appear now to be at parity.
Other features include functionality that allows the user to replace a sites CSS style sheet with a custom one for better readability, and a server-side code decompiler. As you can see, quite a bit for both the developer and consumer to show on.
However, probably the most exciting new feature in IE 8.1 is the support for Firefox Extensions. Yep, you heard that right. While Microsoft warns that not all plugins will work, many do so flawlessly. This is definitely a shot across the bow of Mozilla, and it will be interesting to see how they respond.
(Hat tip: Smashing Magazine)
With the launch of IE8 on Thursday, a fairly decent chunk of the Web surfing populace at least tried out Microsoft’s latest and greatest. However, it appears many have made the decision to downgrade to IE7. While IE8 reached a high of 2.6% over the weekend, it has since fallen nearly a half a percentage point, says Net Applications.
This drop could be explained by curious surfers opting to return to the previous version. It would not be entirely out of the question — IE8′s new features may be a bit too much for some to take the time to get used to, and some users have reported issues in rendering certain websites properly, even those created with Microsoft’s own Publisher tool.
As a whole, IE has been struggling in the face of increased competition from Mozilla’s Firefox. It’s share of the market has fallen to about 67%, down 8 points in the past year alone and well off its highs of nearly 90% in the early part of this decade.
In other words, IE8 needs to be a hit. I don’t think anybody — including myself — expected Firefox to have much more than a 15 or 20 percent market share. Well, it passed the 20 percent mark four months ago and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
Add Apple’s increasing popularity, and the iPhone with it, and who would have expected Safari to have an 8 percent market share either?
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 10:25 am on Monday, March 23, 2009
Yesterday’s most significant browser-related event wasn’t the release of Internet Explorer 8–it was the upshot of day one of the Pwn2Own browser-hacking contest at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. The competition offered cash and hardware incentives to attendees who could exploit zero-day vulnerabilities in Chrome, Firefox, IE 8, and Safari.
The results? Chrome was the only browser that escaped unscathed, apparently because of the way it sandboxes Web code to prevent it from doing damage. (Chrome has, however, been shown to be insecure in the past.) Yup, IE 8–which Microsoft says its “safer than ever”–didn’t even get through its first day on the market without being hacked.
Which wasn’t a surprise in the least–really, it would have been more startling if a bunch of enterprising hackers with money, prizes, and publicity dangled in front of them weren’t able to break into the majority of browsers they tried to attack. Every browser company has smart folks working on making software safe, but it’s painfully obvious that the people who want to show that software is insecure are just as smart.
I don’t look at the people who enter Pwn2Own as white knights–they are, after all, tampering with products to get a chance at monetary reward, and bad guys can and do learn from their attacks. But ultimately, the contest and similar stunts do the world a favor: It’s important that browser companies know about the holes in their products, and if it takes a contest to find some of them, that’s okay. (Pwn2Own’s organizers turn over information on the vulnerabilities that are discovered to the companies in question so they can fix them.)
And the results of day one of Pwn2Own are also a useful reminder to all of us who use browsers: There are less secure browsers and more secure browsers, but there’s no such thing as a fully secure browser. (Even houses with deadbolts on all the doors and pricey alarm systems get broken into.) Remember that when you hear browser companies brag about their safety measures.
Day two of Pwn2Own, incidentally, included a competition to bust into mobile-phone browsers: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian, and Windows Mobile. They all survived, apparently–mostly because almost nobody even showed up to try and attack them. Betcha phone browsers come under a lot more scrutiny from Pwn2Own contestants in years to come…
Now that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 has officially launched, I wanted to take a look at the final incarnation of what may be the browser’s most strikingly new feature: Web Slices, which let you add buttons to your Favorites bar that provide little snippets of Web content when you click them. Here, for instance, is one that lets you peek at your Hotmail inbox:
Back when I reviewed the RC1 version of IE 8, I said that Web Slices were an intriguing idea, but that they didn’t live up to their potential–in part because there weren’t enough of them, and those that did exist were poorly explained. The good news is that Slices have launched with a bunch of examples that weren’t there when IE 8 RC1 appeared. The bad news is that they still don’t come anywhere near living up to their considerable potential.
Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has published a lengthy review of Internet Explorer 8 that says the final version of Microsoft’s new browser will be available for downloading on Thursday at noon ET. Walt likes it quite a bit, except for the fact that he found it slow in some instances. (He did some speed tests which didn’t agree with the ones that Microsoft itself recently published.)
Back in January, I reviewed the RC1 version of IE 8 that’s still the current version of the new browser as of the time I write this, and found it to be..well, a significant improvement over IE 7 and a good browser overall, but one that still feels a tad cluttered, interface-wise. Unlike most of its rivals, it feels like a browser that’s been around for a decade and a half and built up some cruft. And its marquee features, Web Slices and Accelerators, still need to be widely embraced by developers to live up to their potential. Still, any user of any earlier version of IE who doesn’t want to jump ship to Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, or (whew!) Flock should move to IE 8 for its improved security, compatibility, and–at least compared to earlier versions of IE–speed.
Me, I’m basking in the riches of the most competitive browser race ever–it’s not uncommon for me to use Firefox, IE, Safari, and Chrome in the course of one day. (I’m taking a break from Flock, which was my default browser for quite awhile, but I could be back.) I don’t think any browser is a runaway winner at the moment, and every browser has something to recommend it. Like I said in my IE 8 RC1 review, that’s good news for consumers and a challenge for browser developers.
More thoughts on IE 8 once I get my hands on the final version.
In recent months, the hottest topic in the world of Web browsing has been speed. Apple says its beta version of Safari 4 is the world’s fastest browser. The first thing Google tells you about Chrome is that it’s “faster.” Better performance is a key feature in Mozilla’s upcoming Firefox 3.5. Opera says that its alpha of Opera 10 is “30% faster.”
And Microsoft? Well, mostly it’s had to contend with coverage like this story that reports that Safari is forty-two times faster than Internet Explorer 7 and six times faster than IE 8.
Today, the company is fighting back. It’s done its own speed benchmarks and has created a video about them and published a white paper about browser benchmarking. Here’s a stunner: It’s not concluding that IE is a horribly slow browser. In fact, it says that Internet Explorer 8 is not only competitive, but loads many of the world’s most popular Web sites faster than Firefox 3.0 or Chrome 1.0. I met with IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch last week, and he made the same claim.
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 11:01 am on Wednesday, March 4, 2009
San Francisco’s too rainy today:
Once again, those wacky Europeans are making life difficult for Microsoft. A site called EurActive is reporting that Microsoft’s ongoing antitrust tussle with the European Commission will result in the company being forced to help European Windows users opt for a browser that isn’t Internet Explorer. The details are yet to be worked out–the OS might include some sort of mechanism for choosing among multiple browsers, or Microsoft might be forced to work with PC manufacturers to install alternative browsers on new systems. Microsoft is apparently concerned enough that it has a secret plan to delay Windows 7′s release if necessary, reports our own Dave Worthington.
When you’re forced to do something you don’t particularly want to do, there are two ways to go about it: grudgingly or whole-heartedly. Previous legally-mandated editions of Windows such as the Korea-only Windows XP K and KN are the result of the first approach, and I’m not sure if they made anyone other than the government officials who required them happy.
But what if Microsoft poured its collective energy, intellect, and resources into making the best possible multiple-browser Windows–and then made it the standard version of the OS worldwide?