The interview with Brian Countryman, Internet Explorer’s Program Manager, spells death to web standards; there is no way around that fact. “IE6 SP1 is the final standalone installation” of Internet Explorer for Windows. That’s it kids, pick up your shit and go home; there will be no significant advancement in the world of web design and development for another ten years. “But Chris,” I hear you say, “when Longhorn is released, there’ll be a shiny new version of Internet Explorer for all of us to marvel; Microsoft has stated it’s future commitment to web standards, too. We can all smile again.”
Longhorn is currently slated for 2005, that’s Microsoftian for 2006. Given IE6’s current market share of roughly 60%, we could expect up to 85% of internet users worldwide to be using IE6 by the time Longhorn is released — and yes, Longhorn should deliver unto us the long–awaited IE7. The problem here isn’t the penetration of the browser… it’s the penetration of the OS: Windows XP has a current market share of less that 20%. If users of legacy operating systems (say… Windows 95 thru Windows XP: a solid 95% of computer owners today) can’t get to IE7, then IE7 won’t get anywhere.
Consider this: “[Longhorn] will not be compatible with your existing software, hardware or methods.” You’ll need a new computer to try their new operating system, you’ll need that new operating system to try their new browser; and considering that XP isn’t top dog with the unwashed masses (hell, they don’t even need a new computer to run XP) I don’t see Longhorn being adopted at any staggering rates either. Look at Mac OS X — less than 25% of their existing customer base has upgraded from OS 9 because they’re likely to require a hardware upgrade to do so. If there’s no perceived need to upgrade (apart from keeping up with the latest and greatest, which is default behavior for us dorks), Joe User won’t fork out the dough.
Rolling all of those considerations into one neat package: Joe User can’t download IE7, he just can’t. He probably won’t be buying a new computer until the old one breaks, so he won’t be using Longhorn any time soon either. The end result? IE7 won’t be a dominant browser until some time next decade. Until then, IE6 will continue to gain ground and will be the new “standard” in web development. Hey, if your design doesn’t work in IE6 (shitty as it is) then your design doesn’t work… period. Throw in the neat–o deal that AOL has recently struck with Microsoft (the “screw Netscape, we’ll be your bitch if you treat us nice” deal) and you have some serious stagnation in the browser market. Don’t kid yourselves, folks; just because great browsers exist doesn’t mean the masses will use them. Internet Explorer comes bundled, starts instantly, runs smoothly, and is already a de–facto standard of modern web design. Things can only go down from here.