Last spring, one of my clients, whose wife is a real estate agent, had to buy Windows XP to install on his new MacBook Pro. Now he didn’t want to use Windows, but the multiple listing service his spouse’s employer signed up with had a Web-based service that required Internet Explorer for Windows.
That was a fairly recent change, for he used to be able to survive with the aging Mac version of Internet Explorer. All this came at a time when the Windows browser had begun to hemorrhage users, in favor of Firefox. Talk about timing, though it may explain why some people rushed to set up Apple’s Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop.
I remember a conversation I had with a local realtor with some measure of authority on such matters about this foolish decision. I reminded him that the requirement to use Windows Internet Explorer was the equivalent of telling roughly 15% of one’s customers that they were no longer wanted unless they changed their ways. He seemed sympathetic to the argument, although he probably didn’t truly understand the implications.
Aside from the usual issues with Windows, my client endured the situation for a long time, until just the other day, when he mentioned something about the service adding support for Opera, except that he had a problem printing a listing on his system.
Indeed, when I arrived at his home office, I found the problem was easily solved. He had somehow gotten ahold of an older version of Opera, but version 9.1, the most recent version, produced the desired results. Properly-formatted pages, and full access to all of the listing information his wife required.
The smile that filled his face was one of delight that he’d no longer have to boot Windows.
So what signalled the change? There’s no mystery here. It is obvious that the arrival of Internet Explorer 7 hasn’t done much to stem the application’s erosion in the marketplace. Yes, it is being forced upon Windows XP users, and is standard issue with Windows Vista, but that doesn’t mean that more people are using it.
Now if there’s anything peculiar about all this, it’s the fact that they didn’t opt to support Firefox first. Not that I have any problems with Opera. In fact, the folks at Opera Inc. were quite cooperative last year in helping my Webmaster make this site compatible with their browser. It didn’t require too much of a change to make it happen, but the effort was appreciated nonetheless.
Since I don’t know the software engineering issues involved, I suppose it was simply easier to make the multiple listening site run with Opera than with Firefox, for otherwise this move wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. I could be wrong, of course, but since Opera is free these days, there’s no loss. And, like Firefox, it runs essentially the same on several platforms, and some of you truly prefer Opera to anything else. So be it.
In a larger sense, I am pleased at this development. At the risk of being labeled a Microsoft basher once again. Up till now, Microsoft has had few incentives to improve their browser, which was notorious for security lapses, and an aging feature-set. The rise of Firefox basically forced Microsoft to deliver a major Internet Explorer upgrade. Serves them right, as industry dominance should not have made them take things for granted, but that’s what happens in far too many situations.
While this pleasing development may well mean that fewer Mac users need to bother with Windows, it may also indicate that things are changing in a way Microsoft won’t appreciate. They’ve already admitted that initial sales of Vista upgrades aren’t so terrific, and that Wall Street shouldn’t expect any huge rise in operating system sales. Call it status quo, although I suppose lots of people will just buy a new PC to migrate to Vista.
No folks, it doesn’t mean that Microsoft is going down the tubes now or any time in the next few years. There could, however, be a gradual, steady erosion that won’t be stemmed by a brand new music player strategy or an upgrade to the Xbox.
I suppose Vista’s successor might give Microsoft some room to tout something new, but the question is whether anyone but a few tech pundits and Windows fanboys will be listening. No wonder Bill Gates prefers to concentrate on his philanthropy these days.
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