Ballmer: We’re looking at WebKit for IE

Microsoft vowed to build a state-of-the-art, standards-compliant rendering engine into Internet Explorer 8. As we’ve seen in the latest IE8 beta release, however, the new rendering engine remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, Google busted into the browser arena with Chrome, a sleek and stripped-down browser based on the speedy (and already complete) open-source WebKit rendering engine.

How does Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer feel about all this? As Techworld reports, that’s pretty much the question an attendee asked at the Power to Developers event in Sydney, Australia: “Why is IE still relevant and why is it worth spending money on rendering engines when there are open source ones available that can respond to changes in Web standards faster?” Ballmer called the question “cheeky,” but he gave a surprising response.

Ballmer began his answer philosophically, saying Microsoft will need to look at what the browser is like in the future and, if there is no innovation around them, which he thinks is “likely”, Microsoft may still need its own browser because of proprietary extensions that broaden its functionality. . . . Then came the startling revelation that Microsoft may also adopt an open source browser engine. . . . “Open source is interesting,” he said. “Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8.”

Building WebKit into, say, Internet Explorer 9 could provide Microsoft with a ready-made (and very fast) standards-compliant engine. WebKit doesn’t work with sites built strictly for IE6 and IE7, but neither does IE8’s new engine—the IE team has implemented a legacy rendering mode in the new browser for that very reason. In the end, though, we’ll have to see whether Microsoft really wants to use an open-source base for its flagship browser.

Comments closed
    • stmok
    • 12 years ago

    When Ballmer says “…we may look at that…”

    He really means he’s gonna get his lawyers to check if the WebKit’s open source license doesn’t hamper Microsoft’s business. If it doesn’t meet their needs, they won’t accept it.

    Don’t hold your breath.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 12 years ago

      The more I think about it, the more I think he just threw a bone to a certain segment of their market…”yeah, we might think about looking at OSS at some point. Maybe. If it’ll make you love us.”

    • xii
    • 12 years ago

    So, web developers have piled IE-only code on IE-only code, and now Microsoft will not properly support IE-only code either themselves (or they have to write some aid mode)?

    That’s pretty ironical.

    I can only hope Microsoft will – for once – follow open standards, by using an open source rendering agent if necessary.

    • A_Pickle
    • 12 years ago

    You guys, you’re missing the most unbelievable piece of news here. I mean, this is WAY more historic and unlikely than an African American becoming President…

    …Steve Ballmer said, “open-source” and “interesting” in the same sentence. May God have mercy on our souls.

    • opinionated
    • 12 years ago

    I keep reading these discussions in forums about how Microsoft and Internet Explorer are bad, and open source stuff is good. And I just don’t get it. I’ll admit I’m not a tech geek, just a regular web surfer with some familiarity with technical stuff.

    I’ve tried Firefox each time it comes out with a new iteration, and it seems to work fine. But I saw no add ons or extensions or other features that really compelled me to want to adopt it as my everyday browser. I noticed no real difference when browsing. If anything, pages rendered in IE look better more often than in Firefox. For an everyday user who only keeps one or two tabs open at any given time, what’s the point of switching from IE? I have no data to support this, but I suspect people outside the tech community that use Firefox do so because someone told them it was “better” than IE. They use Firefox, but don’t see a real difference. If my son, who is an IT guy, told my mom she should use Firefox, she would, because she trusts his recommendations on tech related stuff. But I doubt she would see any real benefit from switching.

    And then there are those who have been told or believe that Firefox is better because it’s “open source” and must be better than the evil empire’s IE. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.

      • Sandok
      • 12 years ago

      I see what you mean, but even as an simple user, FF has some advantages over IE.

      Firstly, the speed increase is noticible and the browser, as a whole, is more responsive in my opinion. And how many pages “don’t” load well in FF? I’ve come accross one or two, but all the main websites that a normal user would browse load fine.

      As for open-source or addins, some people like the power to customize, others don’t. I’m in the latter 😉

      • BenBasson
      • 12 years ago

      Getting security patches some time within the century in which a security flaw is found is quite a compelling argument against using IE.

      • Tamale
      • 12 years ago

      open-source software is generally regarded as better because it’s available to public scrutinization. this is why security holes are fixed many times faster in firefox than IE, and why there are generally less of them at all.

      which would you rather use, a browser whose code has been checked by 1,000 people (IE) or a browser whose code has been checked by over 100,000 people (firefox)?

        • xii
        • 12 years ago

        As much as I am on the side of open-source software, I’d be surprised if even 5 people have detailed knowledge over the whole codebase of Firefox…

        Open standards are probably a more tangible reason to use open-source software.

          • indeego
          • 12 years ago

          You don’t need 5, you only need oneg{<.<}g nd there are thousands of contributors to FF and open source, including anyone who has ever betatested itg{<.<}g

            • stmok
            • 12 years ago

            That’s assuming they submit reports and feedback to the right people.

            Most users don’t even bother, and wait for the next release.

      • stmok
      • 12 years ago

      Its not specifically about good vs evil. Its more about two different models of software development and their benefits.

      Open source?

      Source code is openly available to all; under licenses which promote “free” in terms of liberty. Its more about community (world wide level) than anything else. For this type of software to improve, the people are responsible. Its typically free ($0) to acquire, and people are encourage to share/explore. Software piracy doesn’t exist in this development model.

      So the power and flexibility is placed upon men and women of the world. Its up to you to do something about it. (The hard part is making the first step and having the leadership to start your own project). The internet has made this development model easier to organise.

      The biggest benefit is that you can contact the software programmers directly. (There’s no digging around, jumping through hoops, etc to contact the right people)…If you speak to them politely and offer constructive criticism, they are more than willing to improve their code. (That’s my experience).

      Closed source?

      This is the traditional model that companies like Microsoft, Adobe, etc uses. You don’t have access to the source code. (And if you do, its under very strict terms). Software here, is treated more like a physical product to be sold. Control is theirs, and users have to nag them for something to be changed or rejected. (They seriously don’t know if something sucks or not until the product is released for early public testing OR when it hits the shelves)…So if you ever had the thought of: “What were they thinking?!” Now you know why.

      Under this model, you generally have to accept what they think is something useful to you. Sometimes they hit their mark, sometimes they don’t. As well, piracy is a problem to them. (Thus the reason for CD keys, Activation, Validation, and other anti-piracy schemes like DRM).

      They typically come up with their own file formats or standards in order to maintain a “business edge” over competitors. (Which makes life difficult if you want to create an alternative to their products). They are also generally more polished than their open source equivalents. (Meaning the most basic of necessities are working well without tweaking configuration files.)

      So how does all this benefit the end-user?

      Generally with open source, because its more community focused, you are more likely to be able to have some influence during the early development of the software. (or the next major version).

      Say if you come up with an awesome improvement, you can contact Mozilla (or whoever) and show them with diagrams, sample code, etc. And if they like it, you can collaborate with them on something. (You’ll have your name credited as a contributor).

      There’s nothing to hide behind. If something sucks or missing, then its up to people to do something about it. (Constructive feedback or code contributions).

      With closed source, you accept what’s given to you. (Their way or the highway)…Some cases, you can do something about it, by using third-party software, but that brings in a different can of worms. You are dependent on them for your software needs. That’s fine if you accept this.

      You’ll often find that open source will release more versions in the same period than closed source ones. (“Constant improvement”, “Release early, release often”)

      For example: By the time IE8 comes, Firefox 3.1 should be arriving slightly before that. Or in the case of operating systems: MS releases a new version of Windows every 2 to 3 years. Ubuntu (or similar) Linux releases a new version every six months.

      Its really up to you to decide if open source benefits you or not.

      (I gave up MS solutions back in 2005, as they started introducing anti-piracy solutions like “Genuine Advantage” and when I actually read the EULA…I didn’t agree so I stopped using).

    • ShadowEyez
    • 12 years ago

    MS must have a business reason for looking into using WebKit or possibly another open-source engine like Gecko. The two main reasons most people use IE and it has the market share it has is because it is the default browser in windows and it is “good enough” for what they want to do. MS may want to use an open-source engine and then tack proprietary extensions that work with IIS or “enhance the windows user experience”.

    • Anonymous Coward
    • 12 years ago

    They would just go make a bastardized version anyway, mostly working the same but not quite.

    • Dr_b_
    • 12 years ago

    They have the biggest R&D software development budget on the planet (not that there are other planets, or ones with IT budgets, but still) and they have been working on IE for years…..They can’t make a rendering engine, but the OScommunity can on no budget that actually works and works a lot better in terms of compat and it is faster?

      • SpikeMeister
      • 12 years ago

      Did you just say there are no other planets?

      • ManAtVista
      • 12 years ago

      You may want to familiarize yourself with the terms “good enough,” “deminishing returns” and “worthwhile business investments.” IE still has 70% of the browser market, so obviously the advantages of the OSS browsers isn’t that great. And even if they were, why should MS make a browser at all when they could include a free one developed by someone else? They may have reasons for developing their own browser, but they are probably only “so” important and no more, and at some point they may not be worth developing a browser at all and MS will include some OSS browser (if any have a compatible license, that isn’t anti-corporation zealotness.)

    • DrDillyBar
    • 12 years ago

    I think they should. With an extensions package of some sort.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 12 years ago

    q[

      • derFunkenstein
      • 12 years ago

      methinks you’re stretching too far.

        • willyolio
        • 12 years ago

        since when has that stopped apple from making commercials?

          • derFunkenstein
          • 12 years ago

          Uhh…the “apple fanboys” don’t make commercials.

      • PRIME1
      • 12 years ago

      Since Microsoft actually owns a significant amount of Apple stock it hardly seems like stealing. More like borrowing.

        • ludi
        • 12 years ago

        Define “significant”. The $150M purchase back in 1997 (non-voting preferred stock) was something like 5% of the company, and those shares were later converted into common stock. Last I heard, they had been sold off, although I can’t find any ready info to substantiate it.

        At any rate, last I heard, stock ownership only entitles you to vote in corporate matters (if applicable), received dividends (if applicable), or sell at the current price.

          • Sahrin
          • 12 years ago

          Well, first off; I wouldn’t call owning five percent of any company ‘insignificant share’ – If Apple has more than 10 directors Microsoft would likely be able to put someone on the board on a whim, and I guarantee you Steve Jobs would be willing to take Microsoft’s calls.

          That said, you are correct, Microsoft has mostly divested themselves of the Apple stake; they had initially committed to holding the shares for ‘at least three years’ – once this period passed, Microsoft began unloading the Apple investment – Microsoft’s intent was never to purchase or control Apple, it was to stabilize the company as a competitor.

            • ludi
            • 12 years ago

            The original investment was in non-voting shares.

      • Meadows
      • 12 years ago

      Apple hasn’t been stealing any less.

    • IntelMole
    • 12 years ago

    /[

      • Master Kenobi
      • 12 years ago

      .Net and IIS support.

    • SNM
    • 12 years ago

    The way I read his statement; it’s not “we’re looking at using WebKit;” it’s “we’re looking at open-sourcing like WebKit.”

      • derFunkenstein
      • 12 years ago

      …and even then, I wouldn’t count on it.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    When he was talking about a “likely” lack of innovation in browsers, was he talking about /[

    • emi25
    • 12 years ago

    this is a joke ? yes ?

    “Ballmer: We’re looking at WebKit for IE” translation: we are in deep s..t.

      • Meadows
      • 12 years ago

      No, translation: we may see if we can do the same proprietariness with it faster than what we do with our own engine right now.

    • StuffMaster
    • 12 years ago

    Headline: /[

      • indeego
      • 12 years ago

      may look g{<=<}g looking

        • Anomymous Gerbil
        • 12 years ago

        No, not necessarily.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 12 years ago

          With a company as large and influential as Microsoft if they aren’t looking at webkit, and gecko, and their own engine (if not multiple in house engines), they aren’t doing their job.

            • Anomymous Gerbil
            • 12 years ago

            Err, sure, but we were just playing semantic games.

    • PRIME1
    • 12 years ago

    They should just ditch IE and use Mozilla. There’s not a huge reason to have their own branded browser anymore.

      • BiffStroganoffsky
      • 12 years ago

      Eh, the article seems to point to proprietary extensions that MS still needs/wants to support, probably from their IIS product(s) that makes them money. Also, the Mozilla foundation would probably want/be entitled too some type of compensation for allowing their product(s), free though they may be, to be bundled with a product that is sold for profit.

        • Flying Fox
        • 12 years ago

        IIS is their web server product, not directly related to IE the browser.

          • BiffStroganoffsky
          • 12 years ago

          IIS is related to IE if you want to use the proprietary extensions Ballmer is talking about. You can’t use another browser other than IE to take advantage of many of the services available only for IIS.

      • holophrastic
      • 12 years ago

      Sure there is: activex. You can’t build applications in Mozilla — because you don’t get access to the local system, the file system, the peripherals, etc..

      WebKit’s great for web browsing, thanks, but there’s a lot more to IE than just the web browser. Something as simple as printing without the print dialog, for example — something absolutely every business application in the world needs to do, and only IE can do it. Reading/writing files to the local system, using a local webcam, connecting to a database directly — all of those things that make computers more than internet browsers.

        • jap0nes
        • 12 years ago

        > Reading/writing files to the local system, using a local webcam,
        > connecting to a database directly

        All of these are things that make me NOT use IE.

          • holophrastic
          • 12 years ago

          Then I guess you aren’t a business user — you’re simply a consumer user. That’s fine. But don’t say that WebKit and the like can meet the needs of people who actually use technology in order to push it forward.

          Tell me, how do you use your computer’s peripherals? Maybe you don’t have any? Maybe you use them to take fun pictures of your vacations? I use them to improve other people’s businesses, no automate humans away, to allow small businesses to grow without hiring additional staff, to make the lives of consumers easier/cheaper/more secure and more convenient by saving them time waiting in lines, calling customer service, and paying more.

          Some of us actually use technology, not ignore it.

            • Forge
            • 12 years ago

            Just because you’re using a hammer to freshen up after doing your business does not mean that all hammers should have bathroom-friendly functionality, nor does it mean that a non-butt-friendly hammer is any less of a hammer.

            Sure, you’re using IE as a sort of poorly-defined interface between the local network (or god forbid, the internet) and the guts of your local machine.

            That does not mean that IE is the best browser, or that browsers that just browse are any less good. Just because it fits how you are misusing it does not define what makes it good or not.

            • axeman
            • 12 years ago

            Well said, good sir. It would be a trifle to keep IE6 backward compatibility for intranet-type apps, but use something else for the default rendering engine. In fact, I can do just that with the IE tab Firefox extension now, keep a list of sites to use the IE rendering engine for. We are stuck on IE6 at work since IE7 breaks some stuff. The funny thing is, Firefox actually works _better_ than any version of IE for browsing our internal Sharepoint sites (another Microsoft product) rendering them much faster. I do have to authenticate manually, instead of it just passing my AD credentials; but this is probably better security practice anyhow.

            Also, I’ll add that Microsoft is actively discouraging people from trying to use IE as an (local) application front end these days; if you need access to COM objects there is a multitude of much better ways to be doing it than through a webpage; and if your application really needs to be web-based, then you have a whole multitude of other technologies to use. In short, even Microsoft will tell you relying on embedding ActiveX components in webpages is an antiquated way of doing things.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 12 years ago

            r[<"Some of us actually use technology, not ignore it."<]r Yeah, I'm sure nobody at a website called something like TECH REPORT is interested in using technology, Mr. Holier-Than-Thou.

            • Sahrin
            • 12 years ago

            Actually, I think his point is valid. Much like Apple, Mozilla’s software is completely home-user driven; it just lacks the ‘back office’ functionality that Microsoft has developed over the years. I don’t think it’s inferior, but it just does not have the same capability; anyone saying it does is wrong. And I also agree that the average user doesn’t fully leverage their technology, whereas a business user is much more likely to.

            • jap0nes
            • 12 years ago

            >to make the lives of consumers easier/cheaper/more secure and
            >more convenient

            Are you using Linux to accomplish that?

        • indeego
        • 12 years ago

        Look into XULg{<.<}g

        • BenBasson
        • 12 years ago

        The only thing really missing from Mozilla functionality is stuff like network rollout (i.e. no MSI), and things like permissions and profiles easily controlled over a LAN, although these problems are hardly insurmountable.

        To do anything with the filesystem (for example) in IE, you still need to elevate permissions and you need ActiveX code written for that task. With Mozilla, the situation is the same, apart from that you need XUL/XPCOM instead of ActiveX, and have a different security model to manage.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This