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The browser wars: an abridged history

In last week’s article on how HTML is a living language, I wrote a bit about the browser wars:

If you’re newer to web development, you may not know what the web was like before web standards. In short, it was fucking awful.

On Twitter, Jon Lunman shared an abridged history of the browser wars that I thought did a great job of summarizing what it was like, and why standards matter.

(Resposted here with Jon’s permission.)

In the early years of IE, Microsoft really pushed the boundaries of what could be done with JavaScript (they called it DHTML).

It’s why so many enterprise/intranet systems were built for IE. No other browser (at the time) came close to offering the same native-like experience we all take for granted today.

Microsoft didn’t wait around for standards to emerge around this stuff. They invented whatever API they wanted. CSS stuff too. Heck, they basically invented Web Components (they called it “DHTML behaviors”) all the way back in IE5!

This meant that a ton of rich dynamic web apps only worked in IE. But everyone used Windows so everyone had IE, right? No big deal?

Competing browsers gradually caught up in capabilities, but rallied around standards that differed significantly from Microsoft’s made-up specs. By then, there was a decade worth of enterprise web apps in production that were built for IE only, and would be too expensive to rewrite or replace for modern browsers.

Many of these legacy systems are still in use today, which means many organizations still need IE in order to use them. Which is why MS can’t just kill it already, despite desperately wanting to.

And that’s one of the reasons so many of us still have to make our shiny new modern web apps also work in crappy old IE.

We all want the web to evolve and get better. But if Google takes matters into their own hands, and adds non-standard features to Chrome, then Chrome risks becoming the new IE6.

And if it wasn’t obvious from Jon’s last statement, this is why web standards matter, and Google/The Chrome Team’s position that the standards process is too slow is so dangerous to the web.

As the dominant browser on the web, Chrome already is the new IE.

The question is, will they learn from IE’s mistakes, or are they doomed to repeat them.