A Browser for All Windows Customers: it’s about and, not or

June 27th, 2011

The topic of what some customers need from a browser saw a lot of attention in headlines (e.g. Mozilla to enterprise customers: “Drop dead”) last week. Both Google employees and Mozilla community members alike (link) explained that to support consumers, their browsers cannot fulfill the needs of large organizations. At Microsoft, we believe that all Windows customers should have a great browsing experience, whether they stay at home, go to school, or work in a large organization with managed IT resources. Because all these groups of Windows customers are important to Microsoft, we want to offer our point of view and describe our approach.

Making the Web better for large organizations (with managed IT) is just as important as making the Web better for consumers and developers. People who have read Built to Last will recognize the false choice that others are making and the “Tyranny of the OR” they’re embracing: they can only support consumers OR enterprises, but not both. As Collins and Porras wrote:

[Visionary companies] do not oppress themselves with what we call the “Tyranny of the OR”–the rational view that cannot easily accept paradox; that cannot live with two seemingly contradictory forces or ideas at the same time. The “Tyranny of the OR” pushes people to believe that things must be either A OR B, but not both.

Large organizations provide healthcare (like Landstinget i Östergötland) and online learning systems (like Blackboard Inc.) and government services (like the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the Washington State Department of Licensing) as well as many other important services on the Web. Just as some individuals have unique needs, for example with assistive technologies, some large organizations have unique needs as well.

To meet those needs, we ship updates to five versions of IE across seven operating systems with 14 Service Pack variations to customers in 96 languages worldwide every eight weeks. We do this because it’s what many customers need to fulfill their missions, safely, reliably, and in compliance with the requirements they have.

Imagine a retailer who uses a Web browser at the point of sale, or for customer support.  During a holiday selling period their PCs might be running 20 hours a day or more continuously.  They simply don’t have time for maintenance – even assuming that the updates have zero impact on the compatibility with the applications and sites they rely on. Now, consider their uptime need with the near perfect compatibility they need with a set of existing, in-use applications.

This is why many Windows customers deploy the Windows Software Update Service (link) to moderate updates and ensure they have time to validate updates. These tools enable customers to have full control in managing and distributing software updates from Microsoft to Windows computers on their network. There are many reasons IE is the most used browser in large organizations; this post (link) discusses some of them, like comprehensive management tools, compatibility, and migration support.

Hospitals, power plants, emergency call response centers, universities, states, and credit unions may choose to stay on a particular browser/operating systems combined for a variety of reasons. Requiring them to run the very latest browser offering – to upgrade software and keep it working at a cadence that doesn’t work for them, just because it’s easier for the software provider– is simply not possible for many of them given legacy mission-critical applications and their limited resources.

Beyond security fixes, these updates that go out every eight weeks include changes both for large organizations and for the consumers who rely on the services of these large organizations worldwide. For this reason, each of the many update packages we ship to IE come in two forms. Both include security, reliability, and compatibility updates as well as updates requested by large organizations (like Adobe, Fuji, HP, Nissan, SAP, or Verizon Wireless, to name a few) that need changes to IE to enable their services to work better for consumers who run Windows. Of the two forms, one of them is for large organizations that need a special, “one-off” fix for an issue that the majority of other customers do not need. An example here might be a power plant that hits a boundary case involving JavaScript interfacing with a legacy control system. The other form is for individuals and organizations that don’t need any of these particular fixes. Over the last year, IE has released about 100 security-based changes (detailed in the release notes with each update). Over the same time period, we’ve made even more changes in IE to increase compatibility, reliability, and performance for the services that consumers, businesses, and large organizations use and provide on the Web.

We deliver these updates on a predictable cadence, working with many people worldwide, to help global customers keep their operations running. Products like Windows and Office have a lifecycle policy (link) that typically runs 10+ years because that’s what these organizations need. As part of Windows, IE honors that 10+ year commitment.

The best way to move the Web forward involves fulfilling the real-world needs of the individuals and organizations on the Web. Sometimes, the needs for stable information infrastructure include Web browsers that are compatible with key systems, are fully updated with respect to security issues, and are not necessarily the very latest version. We respect that the people who run the critical infrastructure of the world must do so without our goals for a modern Web trumping their needs to run their systems under their control.

Providing that option – the ‘and’ rather than the ‘or’ others offer – is key to progress on the Web. We want all Windows customers to have the best experience of the Web.

Many Windows customers work in large organizations. Because we want these individuals to have the best experience of the Web, we work to make it easier for IT to meet their needs. So, we support older versions of IE, and we build deployment, management, and migration tools even as we deliver hardware-acceleration, professional-grade standards support, and innovative approaches to safety (like Application Reputation and Tracking Protection).

People, individually and in large organizations, who use IE on Windows are Microsoft customers. Moving the Web forward for both of them involves and, not the tyranny of OR.

— Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President, Internet Explorer