[Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.]
The new version of Microsoft Edge based on Chromium is moving to beta. It’s hard to look at this new and innovative browser and not think back on Internet Explorer. Times were very different back then, and IE was Microsoft’s answer to Netscape Navigator, the first dominant browser. Microsoft rode IE to almost 100% market share before they pulled resources from it, and it dropped largely into obscurity.
This slide was a painful lesson to watch, but the pain Microsoft experienced effectively saved the company. It also eventually set up the success they are having in the cloud today with Azure, and made them a much better company.
What’s fascinating is Microsoft not only could have avoided the pain, but companies like Apple, Facebook and Google, who are themselves under anti-trust review, could have learned from Microsoft’s mistakes and avoided the pain they’re going through now.
Internet Explorer represented the old technology model: Everything had to be proprietary and big companies like Microsoft could execute on the rule that it was their way or no way. It wasn’t a particularly customer-friendly approach, but it was pretty common in the market. Netscape lacked the contacts Microsoft had and also had an excessively inflated view of its collective competence. In short, Netscape couldn’t execute to save their lives and basically handed the market on a silver platter to Microsoft. Had Microsoft not fumbled, both firms would likely be out of business today rather than just Netscape.
But Microsoft cheated, created an example of why the saying “don’t kick a dying man” was relevant and got slapped badly…even though what they did didn’t work and Netscape’s failure was their fault (a position Mark Andreeson disagrees with very strongly). But this forced Microsoft to rethink their approach and, over the next 10 years, they went from being the biggest opponent of Linux and open source to one of their biggest supporters/advocates.
They learned that rather than fighting interoperability they could be more successful being best at it. Rather than ignoring what customers wanted, they could use customer data to focus products better. And they finally learned that arrogance was a company killer.
Chromium Edge is likely the penultimate representation of the change Microsoft went through. This new Edge product is no longer based on Microsoft’s technology – it’s built on Google’s. Microsoft just enhanced it and then extended it to be a bridge between their old IT-focused Edge and IE, and the new codebase.
The result is a showcase of embracing standards that didn’t source from Microsoft, customer-sourced features that are sourced from Microsoft, and a significant increase in security, which is required by the current market conditions.
From the standpoint of having one browser that can do it all, right now, this new Microsoft Edge product based on Chromium represents the best of both Google’s and Microsoft’s world. It behaves like Google Chrome but bridges back to Edge and IE. This compatibility advantage means it will load Google Chrome plugins and work with enterprise web sites and applications. Since running it myself, I now never use IE, and rarely use Edge, Chrome or Firefox. It’s as compatible as the original Edge hoped to be, but never was, and it feels faster than Chrome, which is saying a lot.
The new Microsoft
Much like IE represented the old Microsoft, which was arrogance, in your face, largely uncaring, abusing its power, and way too focused on killing competitors, the new Edge represents the new Microsoft. And the new Microsoft is focused on keeping customers happy, leading with interoperability and doing what is right.
This new Edge is a showcase of how products should be: Focused on customer needs, standards-based and interoperable. The need for overarching customer focus is the same lesson the telecom industry learned the hard way before Microsoft. Unfortunately, Microsoft learned the same lesson the hard way as well. Hopefully other companies (I’m looking at you, Apple), will learn this lesson before it’s too late and we have to write another unfortunate post-mortem as we did with Netscape.
Think about it; Google seems to be making the same mistake with Chrome that Microsoft did with IE. Apple is again trying to be Compaq (Tim Cook’s old company), which is why the Microsoft Surface line is arguably more Apple-like than the Mac is today. That probably explains why Apple’s lead designer left (and, I expect, he’ll be designing for Microsoft shortly).
I find it amazing that after decades, it’s Microsoft that more represents the future, and Apple, Facebook and Google the past.
How ironic is that?
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