Browser campaign slams IE

Taking a marketing page from Apple, standards advocates use "real people" to promote alternatives to Microsoft's browser.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
A group that prodded browser makers toward better standards compliance is urging people to abandon Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The group has set up a Web site reminiscent of Apple Computer's "Real People" ad campaign, which urged people to switch from Microsoft's Windows operating system to the Macintosh. The site features first-person testimonials of people who switched from IE to alternatives.

"IE was a constant pain," reads the testimonial of entrepreneur David Catherall. "IE didn't feel intuitive at all and appeared to have been built by geeks with geeks in mind--not novices. As time went on, I became more aware of and worried by the holes in the software which could lead to security issues."

Published by the Web Standards Project (WaSP), the campaign bears the sunny title "Browse Happy," but its message is a dark warning.

"Internet Explorer can make your computer unsafe," the site reads. "Why not switch to a browser that's more secure? Many already have. Read their stories, and choose a browser that's right for you."

The site is soliciting more testimonials from people who have switched from IE to an alternative browser.

Microsoft declined to comment directly on the site but expressed confidence in IE's ability to retain its massive following.

"We believe that customers will choose the browser that best meets their needs," a Microsoft representative said. "We believe that most will continue to choose IE when they evaluate all of the factors: end-user functionality, site and application compatibility, developer extensibility, enterprise manageability, and security backed by the processes and engineering discipline employed by Microsoft."

Microsoft's security practices, however, have led to a virtual outcry against the Web's leading browser.

WaSP cited recent recommendations by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team--a computer security partnership between the U.S. government's Department of Homeland Security, the public sector and private sector--against using IE because of its security problems.

"New security flaws are reported at an alarming rate, and major security organizations like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security now recommend against its use," WaSP wrote on its Web site. "Internet Explorer, once the cream of the crop, is now a liability."

For alternatives to IE, the site lists the Mozilla Foundation's open-source browsers Mozilla and Firefox, Apple's open-source based Safari browser for use with recent versions of the Macintosh, and Opera Software's browser.

The Mozilla Foundation said it welcomed the campaign and acknowledged its similarity to Apple's conversion crusade--with a caveat.

"It's just like Apple's thing," said Mozilla representative Bart Decrem. "But it feels very grassroots. This is one of hundreds of examples of individuals and groups organizing themselves and spreading the word about modern Web browsers--foremost among them Firefox. So in that sense, it's very different from Apple's thing. It's the community organizing itself."

WaSP was founded in 1998 by Web site developers fed up with having to code their sites to work with an ever larger pool of nonstandard browsers. Last year, the group declared that it had accomplished its goals in promoting better standards compliance by Microsoft and other browser makers.

Microsoft last year said it planned to abandon development of a standalone IE, preferring instead to focus on integrating Web functionality into its new operating system, code-named Longhorn.

With Longhorn facing repeated delays, the company in recent months has been trying to resuscitate IE and its image. Amid speculation that IE's position might be eroding, Microsoft has made incremental improvements in the browser, mostly focused on security, through the recent Service Pack 2.

The company also hired an evangelist, Dave Massy, to promote IE. Massy did not respond to queries on this story.

WaSP blamed IE on a host of Internet ills, some only tangentially related to security.

"For those still using (IE), the Web is becoming an unpleasant place," the group wrote on its Web site. "Pop-up windows, insidious spyware, and viruses that transmit through its lax security make life difficult and costly for users. Innovative features available elsewhere that make the Web quicker, more accessible and more useful haven't found their way into IE. Microsoft has been slow to respond to these problems."