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  • The Browser Report: A Look at the Safari/Internet Explorer Conspiracy Theory

    June 20th, 2007

    It’s always easy to portray a company’s product plans as having some hidden, sinister meaning. Certainly, we’ve all done it for years with Microsoft, and certainly their behavior has justified many of the most insidious conspiracy theories.

    Lots of people also have their suspicions about Apple. After all, Steve Jobs can create that legendary “reality distortion field” with nearly every public pronouncement. Once you’re subjected to his spell, all bets are off. The most mundane product becomes the next great thing, a surefire success. How could it be otherwise?

    Among all the possible things you might have expected from last week’s WWDC, Safari for Windows probably rated at or near the bottom of the list. I know it wasn’t on my radar, although, once it happened, it seemed like a perfectly sensible and natural decision.

    However, things have changed since then, and now Apple’s motives are being examined from surprisingly varying levels. Take the statements by a certain Mozilla executive that Apple envisioned a browser “duopoly” in which they would share the market with their arch-rival, Microsoft.

    I suppose the fact that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates seemed so friendly in that recent public gathering fueled the belief in some quarters that they might talk privately about what strategy to use against each other and their common enemies, whatever they might be.

    Obviously, Microsoft can’t be too happy about the rise of Mozilla and the impact of Firefox around the world. Although Firefox’s market share reportedly eroded some in the past month, it is certainly surprisingly successful considering the obstacles. The question is, however, does Microsoft really suffer all that much if its browser has less than 80% of the market? Well, I suppose it leaves fewer customers for their search engine, and the advertising dollars they hope to earn. Maybe that has something to do with it, although nothing stops an Internet Explorer user from switching to Google, Yahoo or any other search engine, even if they have to jump a few hoops to make it happen.

    In the larger scheme of things, however, opening up the browser market with more competition means that Microsoft’s own proprietary standards will suffer. These days, there are still far too many sites out there that require Internet Explorer to render properly. With Firefox and now Safari on the march on both the Mac and PC platforms, it will make more and more sense to embrace open Web standards.

    That has to benefit Apple, since Safari uses an open source rendering engine — WebKit — and they claim to want to support industry standards better than any other browser on the planet. Of course, the folks at Mozilla are making the very same promise.

    So the combination of Firefox and Safari ought to be a good thing, since Microsoft ends up being the loser, or at least its efforts to enforce its own standards and dominate everything in its path.

    In fact, some sort of secret pact between Apple and Microsoft to blow Firefox out of the water doesn’t make any sense at all. Duopoly my eye! It would seem far more logical to believe that Safari serves several purposes, none of which benefit Microsoft.

    First, of course, is the iPhone. By delivering a Windows version of Safari, Apple encourages more developers to build Web-based applications that would play nicely with the iPhone and, in fact, with just a regular Mac or PC.

    Some of the critics of Safari 3 have pointed out that it is a little too Mac-like in its interface, and that it ignores some Windows conventions, such as being able to resize a browser window from any corner. Indeed, even the preferences panel comes across as a close copy of the Mac version.

    Now it is surely true that Apple is also using Safari to deliver a sampling of the Mac to the Windows audience, the better to encourage switching. At the same time, it’s also possible they haven’t had enough time to shed the remaining Mac conventions from Safari, and it will behave more like a native Windows application over time.

    You see, one of the things the critics forget is that Safari 3 is a public beta, for both Mac and PC users. There are apt to be plenty of bugs to iron out over time, and it’s wrong to expect perfection from the get-go. In fact, if you read the information posted at Apple’s site on the subject, you’ll see that there are a number of features, listed as part of 13 bullet points, which have yet to be added. They include such basics as placing headers and footers on a printed page.

    So it’s time to lower your expectations. Safari 3 is one large work in progress, and lots of changes are going to come, and it’s likely there will be some surprises along the way, because that’s how Apple works. More to the point, Safari for Windows is clearly designed to benefit Apple, not Microsoft, not Mozilla, not Opera or anyone else. How could you expect otherwise?



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