If you’re like me, you might have a dream that surfers will soon not have to rely on plug-ins to enjoy browsing the web. For fellow dreamers, the forthcoming and latest round of browser wars might lead to a better web experience rather than yet another plug-in based nightmare.
Microsoft has recently had to grin and bear the pain, while its dominant Explorer browser has seen its market share attacked by a series of platforms, including Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari – and most notably – Google Chrome. With market share now hovering at round 60%, it’s almost as if the top guys at Redmond have suggested that enough is enough.
The result is a return of the browser wars, with Microsoft set to preview the final beta of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) in September. Chrome is clean, simple and fast – and expectations will be that IE9 provides a much quicker browsing experience.
Initial signs look good. Graphics performance is enhanced and hardware is accelerated. But the real story is the heavy use of HTML5, showing that researchers in Redmond also feel the next generation mark-up language is the best way forward for development.
“The future of the web is HTML5,” suggested Dean Hachamovitch, the general manager for Internet Explorer in a blog post earlier this year. With Apple and Google also throwing their weight behind HTML5, much debate has rightly centred on the tricky situation facing Adobe’s video plug-in Flash.
But Microsoft’s support for HTML5 potentially creates another set of circumstances and another high profile conflict. This conflict surrounds Silverlight, a web framework that integrates multimedia and graphical elements in a single environment.
More intriguingly, it is Microsoft’s own framework – and, since April 2007, it has formed the backbone of the provider’s presentation framework. So, where does Microsoft’s support for HTML5 leave Silverlight? That, for web developers, is the key question.
Online publication The Register recently referred to the clash as “The Silverlight Paradox”, suggesting that a high quality and HTML5-ready IE9 will surely make many of the features of Silverlight and Flash redundant.
Such a paradox, however, is fraught with complications. IE9 might look like it provides new fuel for Microsoft’s browser battle, but the true level of optimisation will not be clear until web developers get their hands on beta.
As The Register article suggests, legacy requirements mean the use of plug-ins will persist for many years – even if IE9 delivers everything it promises. But the move towards HTML5 shows that the captive strength of plug-ins is waning and businesses must develop web platforms with capability across all levels, from the desktop through to the mobile. The new web experience is emerging.