End of an era: Mac Internet Explorer

Mac Internet Explorer logoThe last few months have been a time of major change for me, with many things coming to an end and a few new beginnings…not enough maybe. It’s time to add one more to the list, and this blurb on the Microsoft website says it all:

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR MICROSOFT INTERNET EXPLORER FOR MAC USERS

In June 2003, the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit announced that Internet Explorer for Mac would undergo no further development, and support would cease in 2005. In accordance with published support lifecycle policies, Microsoft will end support for Internet Explorer for Mac on December 31st, 2005, and will provide no further security or performance updates.

Additionally, as of January 31st, 2006, Internet Explorer for the Mac will no longer be available for download from Mactopia. It is recommended that Macintosh users migrate to more recent web browsing technologies such as Apple’s Safari.

There was a News.com (CNET) article on this topic back in 2003 when I left Microsoft.

Four years of my life were dedicated to this product and others based on it. Those four years in the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft were incredible, and I learned many important lessons and made some great lifelong friends. The most remarkable thing about those four years was that I was able to fulfill a childhood dream…and get paid lots of money for it! My first real computer was an Apple II+ and I have been hooked on Apple’s products since I was six years old. To work in the largest Mac software development team in the world, live 15 minutes away from Cupertino, and become friends with many of the people who were instrumental in making the Macintosh successful was a dream come true.

Along the way, I gained an appreciation for Microsoft which not enough people have. It’s a truly remarkable company that treats its employees well, develops some incredible technology, and deserves all the success it has. As with any large collection of people, Microsoft has made mistakes along the way, but that does not diminish the impact it has had on billions of people’s lives and the way it has helped technology progress. I’m sure people will post some comments telling me how evil Microsoft is and that’s fine. They are wrong, but still entitled to their opinion. I am a hardcore Mac user and reformed Microsoft-hater so no one is going to be able to change my opinion since its based on first hand experience.

This announcement has sparked some debate on Slashdot, which was inevitable. Omar pointed me to a comment to this by our former co-worker Jorg Brown, who now works for Google, which I’ll quote below:

MacIE had one of the strangest and saddest histories I’ve seen, of any product.

MacIE 5 was an awesome release, critically aclaimed and everything, with a good development team and a strong testing team, that included daily performance measurement.

And yet, almost immediately after 5.0 was released, the MacIE team was redeployed to work on a set-top DVR box. The notion at the time was that the team would continue to do MacIE work in their spare time, since IE 5 was the leader among Mac browsers and no longer needed a full-time team.

The problem with that notion was that WebTV, the team’s new bosses, had no reason to actually schedule any time for real IE work. So later, when that particular set-top box got cancelled, the IE team got redployed for other WebTV work, and since this was now out of MacBU’s control, nothing could really be done.

3 or 4 years went by before enough people in the Mac division wanted to resume work on IE, and when it looked like we might actually need the technology, as a base for MSN-for-Mac, the IE 6 team was formed. It got a firm OS X-only foundation, a new even more complient browser base, and then suddenly it became apparent that Apple was doing their own browser, because, well, there were lots of small clues, but the big clues was that Apple had started calling the old Mac IE team offering them jobs.

By that time the Mac division had formally committed to MSN-for-Mac-OSX, so it’s not like we were completely going to stop work. But a meeting was held internally, the outcome of which was that it didn’t make sense to build our own browser if Apple was going to bundle one, because the marketshare and mindshare of the distant-second-place browser, on the distant-second-place platform, wasn’t worth pursuing. A week later we had a meeting with high-up people at Apple, where they told us they were doing a browser. And the week after that, after confirming it with Bill Gates, who was reportedly sad but understanding of the decision, MacIE was officially shut down.

MSN-for-MacOSX went ahead, and was also critically acclaimed, but once released, indications were that the number of users was about the same as the number of developers. After that, MacBU concentrated once again on the next Office release, and MacIE has been well and truly and permanently dead ever since.

Over the whole sad journey, the single most surprising thing I ever discovered was from a small conversation that went:

Me: “Look, if it makes sense to devote dozens of people to WinIE, then surely it makes sense to devote half a dozen to MacIE!”

Higher-up: <confused look> “There aren’t dozens of people on WinIE. WinIE had some great people on it! We need those great people on products that make money!”

Me: “Then why on earth did we pursue IE in the first place? Just so that the DOJ would sue us?”

Higher-up: <confused look>

Some day I hope to get a proper answer on our motivation to do WinIE and MacIE in the first place. It seems to be that we were scared of not having control of the HTML standard. And indeed, now that Firefox is gaining traction, Microsoft has added more people to WinIE again.

Epilogue: All of this made it a lot more easy for me to quit and go work at Google
Reminder: I may or may not be leaving some parts out for NDA reasons.

A lot of what he says is true; but the story is more complex than this and there were many other factors that came into play. Issues which he doesn’t cover…primarily because he wasn’t working on the product much until the last few months of development:

  • – Mac IE was the first real browser running on Mac OS X. We had it running on Developer Preview 2 and it shipped on the Public Beta CD-ROM. That was a great engineering achievement but it came at a very high price. Developing for OS X in those early days was a nightmare and we spent so much time struggling with OS bugs and changing APIs that precious time that could have been used to improve the product was wasted just trying to maintain compatibility with each new beta release of OS X.
  • – Apple was a pain in the ass sometimes. For a company with such great PR, they really were very unprofessional and treated developers poorly. I know that the OS X transition was tough, but there are so many stories I could tell of stupidity at Apple and policies which made no sense…but I won’t. I’ll just say that Apple had a lot more involvement in the development of Mac IE and it’s eventual end than Jorg gives them credit for. There were times during the last two years of working at Microsoft that I really hated Apple’s management…which was very difficult for me being such a loyal fan of their products and having so many friends who worked there.
  • – No clear direction from our management was the last major factor which Jorg touched upon but is important to mention again. Towards the end, we had some major changes in management at the MacBU and the new team was inexperienced both with the products they were managing and how to deal with Apple. They were further handicapped by lack of clear direction by our execs who were too busy worrying about AOL, the DOJ, and our stock price.

Anyway, enough about the history. Mac IE is dead, and it’s up to Apple and the Mozilla team to continue to innovate for us Mac users. Sadly, there are still many very useful features in Mac IE that neither company has replicated in their browsers and there are still too many sites which don’t look right in Safari. I remember calling up CNN and ESPN and getting them to fix problems in their websites…it worked and I hope Apple has a group of people doing the same thing.

Since Microsoft will no longer be offering Mac IE 5 for download on their website, I’m going to provide a community service by linking to it here. It has not been totally replaced and at least I need a place to be able to download it from for my own personal use…but you’ll have to know what to click on to download it. ;-)

If you ever want to know who the people behind Mac IE 5 were, just type “about:tasman” in the address bar of Mac IE and you’ll get a list of the people who put their heart and soul into making it such a remarkable and successful product.

EDIT: Link removed at Microsoft’s request.

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