A huge number of web conferences for the past year or two have been sponsored by the Internet Explorer evangelism team. The message has been clear: The last few versions of our browser is actually pretty good. We know we did bad things in the past. And we have even printed some funny(-ish) t-shirts about how much we used to suck. (Or rather the people that worked on the code ten years ago used to suck.)
The thing is though that those people didn’t suck. Internet Explorers 5.5, 6.0 and possibly even 7.0 were really good browsers for their time. They redefined what’s possible on the web in very fundamental ways by bringing us away from markup and presentation to actual web programming. Much has been made of the fact that Microsoft stopped developing the browser for a few years, but even that is forgivable because it didn’t actively hurt the web community, its developer and its supporters.
The original sin of Internet Explorer is that older versions were never, ever made to go away. The enduring problem of the platform is that Microsoft simply hasn’t taken its role as a stewart of the web seriously. Instead they’ve displayed an ongoing distain for web developers year after year by not making it easy or even automatic to upgrade browsers.
Now, why should we care? Isn’t the new Microsoft all about clouds, web standards and developer love? Nope.
Last week, Microsoft started a small PR push to tell the world that they’re deprecating support for IE8 by January 2016, and of course every tech site under the sun wrote about it as if it’s a victory for developers. The PR line is how important for security it is to have an updated browser and how the deprecation is a win for developers and users alike with performance and standards support.
But it’s happening again, and by now we should frankly know better: The problem with previous version of IE weren’t the browsers themselves, but that they never went away. And in the press release, you’ll find a reference to the ongoing slap in the face of developer that is the Internet Explorer version roadmap: By 2016, Vista will still be limited to running Internet Explorer 9 and there are other recent operating systems still limited both to IE9 and IE10.
By the same token, none of the existing Internet Explorer 8 installations with be auto-upgraded to more recent version (just as we never saw automatically bringing IE6 or IE7 into the future). And no one is mentioning that the 3-4 major versions of the browser still in circulation two year from now will all ship with the rendering engines of IE7 and IE8 built into them — ready-made with with meta tags that people can use to trigger them.
Don’t be fooled: This is not a victory. It’s merely a convenience for Microsoft’s internal roadmap — and for some reason something that people has bought as good PR.
This is the question I always ask of the evangelism teams at web conferences: When will the automatic updates to Internet Explorer 11 be rolling out? It usually halts the sales pitch for a split second, which is nice — but of course it’s a disingenuous question because I know that IE11 won’t even fucking run on all of Microsoft’s operating systems — even if they’re all perfectly capable of running the most recent versions of Chrome and Firefox.
The Modern.ie site is the perfect exhibit that Microsoft simply doesn’t understand the core of the problem. You can’t keep hating on us. We’re doing really cool stuff now. Didn’t you hear?, the site is screaming. But the problem was never really that Microsoft weren’t putting out good browsers, rather that they were shitty shepherds of the afterlife of those browsers. And while the company hasn’t learned that lesson, we cannot let them get away with meaningless PR deprecations that doesn’t get to the root of that problem.