• The End of Internet Explorer for the Mac: The Non-Story of 2005?

    December 24th, 2005

    A lot of fuss was raised Monday about the impending end of support for Microsoft’s Mac version of Internet Explorer. However, the application really died a couple of years ago, and I suppose it’s taken a little extra time for some to notice.

    Now it wasn’t too many years ago that Microsoft owned the Mac browser market in the same fashion as it continues to dominate the office suite market. Netscape was fat and buggy, and Internet Explorer was relatively lean and slick. When the original Public Beta of Mac OS X appeared in September of 2000, believe it or not, Microsoft was there with a native version. It’s not that Internet Explorer 5 for Mac OS X was terribly different from the similarly numbered version for the Classic Mac OS, except for the support for Aqua interface elements. The core browsing engine was essentially the same, with the possible exception of whatever rendering and security enhancements Microsoft’s Mac programmers managed to roll in.

    Of course, this should come as no surprise, since the Windows version, until recently, also remained stagnant. Many feel that the arrival of Mozilla’s Firefox, and its unexpected success, lit a fire in Redmond and encouraged Microsoft to start developing Internet Explorer again ahead of the arrival of its long-delayed operating system, Vista.

    To think I once thought the Mac version of this browser was good. At the same time, I had to confront the clear evidence that the Windows version did things a lot faster, even on hardware that was supposedly similar in performance to the Mac I was using at the time. No doubt the folks at Apple also realized that the Mac browsing experience was second rate, and Safari debuted as a public preview on January, 2003.

    In introducing Safari, Steve Jobs boasted of its speed, touting comparisons with the other browsers available on the platform. Nearly three years later, Apple is still making the same claim for the version of Safari that ships with Tiger, although its comparison is with the first version of Firefox. Of course that’s debatable, unless you limit the test to application launch speed, where it is clearly superior to most of its significant rivals. As far as page rendering, Java performance and the rest, it depends on what you test.

    In any case, Microsoft took the hint and decided to stop developing the Mac version of Internet Explorer five months after Safari’s introduction. One month after support officially ends, the software will no longer be available for download from Microsoft’s Web site. But will anyone care? Unless you have an older Mac, I’m sure most of you haven’t used it in years. In retrospect, it’s not a terribly good browser. Page rendering, compared to the rest of the competition, is perfectly awful, and performance is nothing to write home about.

    Believe it or not, Microsoft’s Mac developers actually did release a newer version, as part of the aborted attempt to bring its MSN online service to the Mac. Yes, despite its quirks, MSN contained an updated browser based on Internet Explorer, only Microsoft opted not to release it as a standalone application. But take it from me, you aren’t missing anything.

    With the official departure of Internet Explorer from the list of available Mac browsers, you have a wealth of choices. For the most part, however, I have opted to stick with two, and that’s Firefox 1.5 and Safari, although I occasionally launch Opera when I need a change of pace.

    I realize many of you have embraced Firefox, and it is a good choice, particularly if you also work under Windows and/or Linux and want a similar online experience. For me, I still return to Safari at the end of the day. I, for one, am not convinced that Firefox is really faster. It’s major new feature, the ability to display cached pages more rapidly when clicking the Back and Forward buttons, is already present in Safari.

    Now this doesn’t mean Apple’s browser is perfect. It is still notorious for runaway memory expansion. For example, I have had it open for about a day, and it is now using more than 200MB of RAM, which is, frankly, an absurdly high number. Firefox’s demands on the system seldom swell to more than half that number. Now one of my colleagues has suggested Safari is leaking memory when displaying pages with animated content, and maybe that’s true.

    As far as Internet Explorer is concerned, it’s memory footprint is closer to 24MB on similar content, although I haven’t run it through its paces very much lately. Frankly, I’m not inclined to toss it away, and besides I never contacted Microsoft for help in using the application during all the years it was available. I might still launch it on occasion, because there are a handful of sites that don’t display very well in other applications. On the other hand, Microsoft’s own MSN doesn’t render correctly in the Mac version of Internet Explorer, so they were tossing us a hint long before that official announcement of its discontinuance that’s gotten so much attention.

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