Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) web browser used to dominate how the web was viewed. Now it is one of many options people use for browsing the web, and its market share has fallen from almost 70% to 20%. But life after Internet Explorer is uncertain. When will this stage of the web’s evolution truly begin? What will it be like for users and developers?
Start saying goodbye to Internet Explorer
A couple of weeks ago, a gauntlet was thrown: Salesforce, the market leader in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software segment announced it would end support for Internet Explorer 7 and 8 this summer. Reasons cited include:
- Lack of modern standards compliance
- Inherent security risks
- Fewer than 25% of their user agents are IE7 or IE8.
While at first glance this appears to be a firm chastisement of Microsoft backpedaling on its end-of-life plans for IE (and it is), it is more fundamentally a warning to the entire enterprise software market.
Regardless of your opinions on IE or Microsoft software, it is admittedly difficult to defend the company’s management of the twilight years of IE 7 & 8. The browser market has been moving toward modern standards for some time now. Development under the restrictions of feature-poor versions of Internet Explorer as well as more advanced browsers has been frustrating for devs and end-users alike. Inconsistent user experience and gaps in branding guideline implementation are just the tip of the iceberg. The constant spectre of these legacy browsers has necessitated shims, hacks and concessions to function and form that have left a bitter taste on web developers’ tongues.
For its part, Microsoft hasn’t exactly helped the situation. At first, they promised to end IE 7 & 8 support at the beginning of 2015. But then they backtracked on this pledge. Now they are prolonging the already-flailing death throes until the start of 2016.
Do we blame Microsoft?
Before the mob gathers to set fire to our offices, we ask this as a purely rhetorical question. Here at PINT, we have built our sites and applications with as much backwards-compatibility as possible, sometimes to the detriment of our Devs’ morale and sanity. Our heroic efforts are on behalf of our clients’ requirements which are in service of our clients’ customers. Ultimately, we are all engaged in the service of these end users.
What is the deal with these end users?
Are these remaining IE 7&8 users luddites pounding away on their old XP boxes hoping that the world will stop turning? Unlikely. A legion of octogenarians who only upgrade when their grandkids visit? We give our grandparents more credit (and we visit them more than once a decade). Maybe they all work for government and corporate giants concerned with that huge line item that starts with “Windows Migration?”
Bingo: It is our experience that many of these users are on intranets or custom web applications managing supply chain, payroll, and even facility management. They are built-on systems that rely on the parts of IE7&8 that seem like quirks to those of us who have moved on to later versions or other browsers. These applications are usually designed and built under contractual obligations to support certain browsers and versions, so reluctance to renegotiate these contracts is understandable for both client and vendor.
Individual users are probably not the problem
Additionally, since versions of IE are tied to specific versions of Windows (based on Microsoft’s architecture), making the leap to modern browser standards involves costly, organization-wide system upgrades. These two major concerns earn the actors in the enterprise software space (both vendors and clients) their deserved reputation as conservative, stable and resistant to change. Unfortunately, these reluctantly-updated applications and systems manage crucial business functions, and organizations will eventually be forced into wholesale updates of enterprise systems and software, otherwise their crucial enterprise applications will begin to fail with every deprecated feature.
No more Internet Explorer 7? WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!
Ok, we’ll tone down the melodrama, but large (and small) institutions are approaching a watershed moment in the amortization of roughly ten years of technical debt. This is a point at which painful decisions need to be made.
We’re not? Okay…. now what?
The IE legacy issues are the symptom of a disease, not the disease itself. Everyone was deferring expenses during a miserable economic period which resulted in technical stasis: legacy enterprise software built for legacy systems and their accompanying browsers propped each other up. Now that modern web standards have come to be widely expected by end users on a variety of devices and browsers, the lever may exist to move these sluggish enterprise planets.
It’s worth noting that applications developed specifically for legacy IE versions will likely continue to function in modern browsers (depending on how forward-thinking the Developers were at the time), even after organizations make the massive Windows upgrades we’ve already discussed. To a varying extent, these applications will experience decreased functionality and a degraded user experience, but many will remain functional. Likely, this is what drives major national and worldwide organizations’ pressure on Microsoft and its support policies, as they use their potential spending power to stave off upgrades until sunnier economic times, and to kick the software update and redesign even further down the road.
This is what makes Salesforce’s play so intriguing. As an icon of the SaaS movement and a company whose legitimacy and product are recognized across all sectors (yes, even government), Salesforce’s words have weight. It has convinced executives, managers and small business owners that the SaaS delivery model offers a unique opportunity: ongoing development and relative browser agnosticism with frequent, small-scale advances rather than cataclysmic shocks to the system.
These advantages are what have Price Waterhouse Coopers determining that “SaaS delivery will constitute about 14.2 percent of all software spending and 18 percent of all applications spending.”
“SaaS delivery will constitute about 14.2 percent of all software spending and 18 percent of all applications spending.”
Poignantly, Salesforce ranks #13 on PwC’s list of the top 100 Software Companies of 2014, on a steady climb. While their revenue is only about 3% of Microsoft’s, how many more like-minded SaaS providers will it take to get the word out to businesses around the world?
Salesforce’s move has an added benefit:* it is doing this for its clients’ own good.* The new support policy acknowledges that their product will suffer as a consequence of legacy IE browsers, and their clients will receive an inferior product. It is a push towards progress, deftly applied to a dense, vital area of most firms: their client list.
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer strategy
Microsoft itself is on board, seeing an opportunity in a formerly-antagonistic relationship with Salesforce. The software giant has tried again and again to wean the enterprise software market off its older versions, to little avail, and it seems that Satya Nadella’s Microsoft has developed a strategy to harness the growing SaaS market to the cloud-based software and infrastructure of Office365 and OneDrive. While the irony is savory, the ultimate goal for Microsoft and Salesforce is sweet: grab the enterprise software market by the browser, and drag it (kicking and screaming, if need be) into the modern environment.
This may take a while to shake out. Even so, managers should already be looking at the long term costs of their legacy applications and outdated systems, as well as the immediate benefits of hosted or subscription services. Microsoft has signaled its intentions and Salesforce is leading the way, and the next enterprise software decision made at any organization should start by taking their opinions into account.
What say you?
Do you cling to IE 7 or 8, outdated legacy systems, or other apps that you’re just accustomed to using? Tell us what keeps you from upgrading in the comments section below.