Archive | May 2011

Back, forward, and refresh to the future

The web is now available full-on” the billboards have boomed for the past few months, advertising Microsoft’s latest version of their web browser: IE9. As expected Microsoft haven’t been shy in giving IE9 exposure, wielding their marketing cash seemingly freely. Back in September the beta release of the browser was accompanied by a tie-in with Gorillaz. The release itself has been given a massive advertising push. And a month or so back came the World’s Biggest Pacman, “made for IE9” they claimed.

Not that Microsoft have been alone in pushing a browser. Google used their financial might to launch the browser war two years back, advertising their own browser Chrome with a strong integrated campaign (the highlight of which was this pretty awesome ad), and they continue this “real world” presence – advertisements still adorn London tube stations. At the time of that first Google campaign 24 months ago Microsoft browsers accounted for 69 percent of the market, Firefox represented 23 percent, and Chrome? 1.5 percent. Two-thirds of computers in the world used a version of IE.

To the present, and IE8 and IE9 now represent a 55 percent share of the global browser market for Microsoft  – still way ahead of Firefox (22 percent) and Chrome (15 percent). But the gap has been cut, and there is a clear transferal of users from IE to Chrome. How valuable, how useful Google’s campaigning has been is arguable, but you cannot argue that Chrome hasn’t impacted on IE’s share of the market.

Of course, one major advantage Microsoft have is they can simply push their browser, in whatever flavour of IE, on the user – after all, the vast majority of PCs still come with a ready-to-run version of Windows as an operating system. This means it is easy to roll your product onto owners of new computers, but what of those who already have machines?

There are challenges alone in getting the audience to update their browser. The[IE6 Countdown site claims that as of April 2011, 11.4 percent of the world’s internet users still use IE6. That is just over one in ten of every web surfer clings to using a web browser that is nearly ten years old! However, in the ‘western world’, where the money is and the streets aren’t as filled with pirated software, the usage is low. Behold the west and its ability to grasp modern web browsers!

(Interestingly, the same website source claims that China (34.6 percent), South Korea (23.5 percent), and India (11.2 percent) are the only country’s with a double figure percentage of their population still using IE6.)

The IE6 Countdown website itself is a Microsoft product, the company making the bold and overt move to get people to dump IE6 – by upgrading to the latest Microsoft browser! Microsoft have been accused in the past of trailing behind, always playing catch up, and at least paying homage (to put it euphemistically) to the newer breed of browsers of Chrome and Firefox, in terms of design, user interface, and the software technology.

But for once I do applaud Microsoft. As someone who is just so excited by where the internet, our browsing experience, and technology will go in the immediate years I want people to upgrade their browsers! I want people to be able to experience the web as we envision it. Do most users out there know what Microsoft mean by the web being “full-on” though? Does the man in the street care about HTML5 capabilities? Do children using the CBBC and Cartoon Network sites really care that they are using Flash for the games? I think not. Do users even  know what a browser is and what separates each one, what distinguishes them?

I do. I prefer the slim, sleek Chrome. I finally dumped Firefox to being just a testing/debugging browser early last year. And I haven’t had IE as my default browser for years, when it was forced upon me by my employer’s IT department.

But your average person, the public: do they know? Do they care? If all the browsers are perceived as being “up to date”, does it matter?

Part of me thinks, no. People have their preferences, their reasons. As long as they have a browser that is ready to take advantage of the potential HTML5/CSS3 offers us we are future-proofing the users. In this case the users can be ignorant.

While Chrome’s advertising has been all about the browser’s name and how you can use it use Google’s web-based products, Microsoft have been keen to push that their browser is a gateway to the modern web, the browser is just a window. Of course IE9 isn’t the only browser that carries the power of HTML5 but this is the first campaign to espouse the major benefits of using such a browser, to reveal the potential.

Could this also be a move by Microsoft to try to gain the support of the very industry that it belongs to, the digital production arena? For the past few years web producers have be-cried the need to maintain IE6 compatibility, exasperated having to explain the lengths (and additional cost) needed to maintain compatibility. For years Microsoft have been berated. And now they are doing what every forward thinking web producer wants. Microsoft are effectively paying to draw a line in the sand and advertise what we all want to show off.

…which doesn’t seem to have gone down well with Google. This week’s techie world viral hit is the Chrome version of iPhone hit Angry Birds. Games through browsers isn’t something new, but Angry Birds has been written without the need for Flash, the usual delivery mechanism for games. In their non-Flash, HTML5 show-off session Microsoft gave us the simple gameplay of Pacman, a simplisitic pick-up-and-play classic, with the added allure of a social element and a level construction kit.

Google? They have to go and convert something that little bit trickier, a modern game, an iPhone game at that, one of the gaming success stories of the past few years. This didn’t just trump Microsoft’s Pacman. This showed it up completely. With one swift association with their browser, Google have cannily shown that they are the thought leaders. (Although they didn’t fold in the social media integration that the World’s Biggest Pacman managed so smoothly.)

Of course, Angry Birds doesn’t just run on Chrome. Fire it up in IE9 and the latest version of Firefox and it runs pretty much the same. But it is another example of the browser battle, and championing the browser. For the press release of IE9’s launch a couple of months back, Microsoft explained IE9 puts the company on an even footing with its competitors. Technological advantages? Minimal, if any. And no sooner have Microsoft settled their new browser in, Google push the goal posts further out. That’s the delicious problem with technology – it doesn’t sit still, ergo neither does the internet. And best of all, we are just beginning to see where we can go with the technology through these browsers, which will increase in line with take-up of the browsers themselves.

The simple fact is the web has been available full-on for a while. It’s only just now that people will have been able to see boundary pushing websites through a Microsoft product, rather than one they have had to opt into choosing before.

Market share and the like aside, I hope that the campaigns to get people to leave IE6 behind and embrace IE9 succeeds. Also it is alerting users to the potential of the web, and that isn’t just one browser out there. Maybe first however we must teach internet users what a browser is.

World’s Biggest Pacman: http://worldsbiggestpacman.com/
Web browser based Angry Birds: http://chrome.angrybirds.com

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Saltaire Arts Trail: where did that sneak up from?

Saltaire Arts Trail flier - Sat 28 May to Mon 30 May

Spotted this neatly designed little flier for the Saltaire Arts Trail at the Bradford 1/Impressions Gallery over the weekend. Took me a bit by surprise as I thought the festival was usually held later in the year.

A look at the website reveals there’s a great spread of events and activities over the bank holiday weekend at the end of May. Hopefully the shift to earlier in the year will reward the festival with fine weather and the usual busy crowds in and around the village. The Saltaire food map and the fuzzy felt workshop sound like particularly intriguing little gems.

Now, to just make sure we’re not doing anything too distracting that weekend so we can go!