Two weeks after Microsoft announced it would stop development on a stand-alone version of Internet Explorer 6 for Windows – instead continuing to integrate Web browsing functionality into the Windows operating system – the company has now confirmed that there will never be an Internet Explorer 6 for Macintosh. Citing competition with Apple’s Safari Web browser, Microsoft has said that it will continue to release bug fixes for Internet Explorer 5 for both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X as necessary, but the company has halted development on Internet Explorer 6. In fact, development stopped right after the public beta release of Safari in January of 2003, though the decision just became official last week. Simultaneously, Jimmy Grewal, the Internet Explorer program manager, announced that he would be leaving Microsoft to pursue other interests in his home country of Dubai.
There’s nothing surprising about this move, given Microsoft’s lackluster support for Internet Explorer on the Mac over the last few years, coupled with the fact that there’s no business case for engaging a free program in a fierce technical competition with Apple. Microsoft simply doesn’t see a Macintosh Web browser as a strategic direction now that it has won the browser war with Netscape (and the numerous self-inflicted bullet holes in Netscape’s corporate shoes bear evidence to all the help Microsoft had in winning that fight). By some accounts, Internet Explorer owns about 95 percent of the overall browser market share on both Windows and the Mac. There’s also some thought that de-emphasizing the Web browser is part of Microsoft’s overall push towards .NET and Web services.
More interesting is some of the language coming out of Microsoft with regard to relegating Internet Explorer for Macintosh to the living death that is maintenance mode. A Microsoft spokeswoman was quoted in an AP report as saying that Apple can create a better Web browser than any third party because Apple has access to functionality in the operating system that’s not available to others, which is exactly the charge made against Microsoft during the company’s long-running antitrust battle. The quote could be interpreted to mean that it’s impossible to compete with an operating system company that also develops applications (and that’s not fair) or that Web browsing functions should of course be part of the operating system (which is what Microsoft has been saying all along).
Despite still being in public beta, Safari is a very good Web browser, and an improved final release should be coming soon, hopefully with compatibility for the sites the current beta can’t access. Safari has rocketed to being one of the most popular Macintosh Web browsers in six short months, and in fact, more people browse the TidBITS Web site with Safari than with any other Macintosh Web browser. Without any competition from Internet Explorer, the challenge for Apple, then, is to continue to improve Safari and not just coast on the momentum of the initial release. Hopefully the smaller competitors in the browser market – Camino, OmniWeb, Opera, and others – will help keep Apple honest. After all, Apple bundles Mail with Mac OS X, and yet numerous email programs like Eudora, Mailsmith, PowerMail, QuickMail, and even Microsoft Entourage are not only still actively developed, but provide significantly more power and flexibility than Mail.