Apple Archive

Microsoft's Monopoly Makes It Slow and Vulnerable, Which Apple, Google, and AOL Love

- 2006.02.03

Microsoft released a preview version of its Internet Explorer 7 browser this past Tuesday. The only real new features of this Windows-only browser are tabs and RSS, features that Firefox has had since beta, and ones that Safari has had since Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" came out.

Vulnerable

IE 7 is said to feature many security enhancements, building on what already existed in Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. This all sounds good, yet there has already been at least one reported security vulnerability, and many people seem to be having problems installing the software if they've already got antivirus or anti-spyware software installed, specifically McAfee Internet Security Suite.

Sure, it's beta software, so it's not going to be perfect. But for the lack of new features (the RSS icon is the same one used in Firefox - Microsoft actually collaborated on that front) and the time that Microsoft spent on the security aspect of the browser, it's a bit shocking to find that one day after the beta was released someone had already uncovered a security vulnerability.

And more ironic yet, you can't even install the supposedly "secure" browser if you're running antivirus software!

Internet Explorer is still the most popular browser in the Windows world; many people think of IE as being the Internet. But that number is dropping. Virtually everyone in the business or academic world has most likely heard about Firefox, and many have tried it. Many students here in Montreal use it as their default browser - and if they're not using Firefox, it seems they're using Safari on a Mac.

Conceding Defeat

The Mac is one platform where Microsoft has conceded defeat in the browser wars. Internet Explorer 5.2.1 was the last version of IE for the Mac. When it first came out, it was a decent browser with useful features, such as an auction manager, but it quickly became dated, and Microsoft seemed unable to respond to new trends like tabbed browsing and blocking popups. Instead they focused their efforts away from browsing (and their OS, too) and onto other things, like digital music services.

IE 6 for Windows has also started to reach that end point. While it does block popups (if you have XP Service Pack 2); tabs and RSS, the other two ubiquitous features in browsers, are unavailable.

And if you have an older version of WinXP or are still using Windows 2000 (as many businesses and schools are), you're out of luck without using a third-party solution for blocking popups.

Can a Monopoly Stay Ahead?

Microsoft is in an interesting position right now; it's expanded, broadened its product range endlessly, and is now facing competition from hundreds of companies who have products designed to work with Microsoft's main product, Windows.

Apple has pushed Microsoft into a place where Microsoft felt it needed it's own music download service, and they're now even considering a Microsoft iPod-like device.

Google put Microsoft out on the search business - their relaunch of MSN Search got less traffic on its first day than the old version had been getting!

In the US, AOL has been more successful with instant messaging software, and now we're seeing losing market share to Firefox and other browsers.

Microsoft doesn't seem to be able to stay on top of it all.

It's fairly obvious at this point that Microsoft just can't be the market leader in everything anymore; they need to start focusing. Perhaps they've realized that in some ways, canceling Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player for the Mac.

This is an obvious area where they weren't making money, but it's also a sign that Microsoft is starting to lose its monopoly.

Deluded

In other ways, Microsoft is still deluding themselves. Windows XP is almost five years old, and only two service packs have been released. Compare that to Windows 98, which was current from 1998 to 1999, when it was updated to Windows 98SE, which took it through to 2000. Then it was updated to Windows Me. Then in 2001 Windows XP replaced it. That's three years, with some fairly significant updates in between.

This time Microsoft's been very slow with releasing Vista, promising it in 2005, then 2006, and now . . . well I remember reading that yet another developer preview of it was canceled.

I had a conversation about RAM with a friend of mine the other day - he had some PC133 RAM from an old PC, and I informed him that he wouldn't be able to use in a new one he plans on getting, since most computers now use PC3200 RAM. Technology's progressed, but Windows really hasn't.

Switching

Yes, 90%+ of people in the world still use PCs running Windows, but if Microsoft can't deliver timely updates and consistently remains behind, like they have for the past few years, people might start thinking about switching.

Switching to the Mac, for example.

Now that the Intel chips are present in the iMac, there's no more perceived slowness factor (the so-called MHz Myth). At US$1,299, it's considerably more expensive than a $799 Dell (based on single-core Pentium 4 technology), but the iMac also delivers much better performance with a lot of nice features (integrated webcam and mic, internal speakers, a remote control) that a less expensive PC won't have.

Apple is banking on Windows users growing sick of the endless security problems and empty promises about Windows Vista arriving "in 2005" to make the jump and purchase something different. The iMac gets great reviews; for example, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has repeatedly talked about how wonderful it is, calling it the "gold standard" of personal computing.

Apple's market share might increase - in fact, it probably will - and I'm just guessing based on the number of people that I know who've told me they plan on getting a Mac as their next computer.

However, Apple needs to be careful not to put themselves in the position that Microsoft is in. Apple makes hardware, software, and, with the iPod, consumer electronics. It needs to be careful how it broadens its line of products and services so as not to give itself too much to handle, which seems to be Microsoft's problem.

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