Microsoft ups ante on browser wars

NEW BROWSER WARS

Microsoft’s much awaited official release of Internet Explorer 8 last week starts a new chapter on browser wars with much at stake.

Browsers have become the conduit for a fundamental shift to online offerings with unlimited business potential. They are also staging the set in next generation cloud computing where your browser will be like your OS, with everything running online, not your computer, whose final function is slated to be simply a local storage, screen and input device.

Microsoft still holds the lead in market share of browsers, but competitors Silverfox, Apple and Google and niche Opera are catching up. IE’s lead is not because it’s the best browser…far from it. Experienced computer users and purists, including, to be fair, Microsoft bashers, give high marks to browser competitors for cool, cutting edge features and “technical” speed.

In 2004, Internet Explorer had 90 per cent market share and now it is down to 70 per cent, so it needs to convince users its new IE 8 is up to snuff, which frankly is in many ways.

And despite Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 openness in letting you, for example, choose competitors search engines, even keeping your old ones after upgrading, new computer users end up using Microsoft Live services by default, if that is the first option offered.

Not to say IE 8 is not raising eyebrows. The one thing Microsoft is good at, when it has all its ducks in order, is to get it right the second or third time.

IE 8 has a few cool new features that will benefit web sites and end users:

-Web Slices are special “live” web-based shortcuts you easily create, assuming web sites have taken advantage of this feature. You are alerted when the content of these web sites changes, without you having to revisit the site. For example, if you are on the understandably very popular www.workoplis.com site, you can save your job search profile (such as kind of work, city, dates) as a Web Slice in your Favourites bar.  The shortcut notifies you whenever Workopolis has updates in your search profile. This means you don’t have to go back on that site to see if there are new results on your profile. You can set how frequently you want the Web Slice shortcut to refresh. The IE8 online help guide is-well designed including videos showing you how to use the new features. For more information go to: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/internet-explorer/default.aspx

“IE 8 answers the need to make technology that works for everyone,” said Roy Bernhard, Workopolis managing director, information systems. “These web tools are easy for developers to develop and end-users to use.”

Bernhard added there were more than 3,000 IT jobs available in Canada last week, so using tools like Web Slice can give job-seekers an edge in this competitive job market.

For more information go to: www.workopolis.com

-Accelerators are a real time-saver that allows you to do much more within the web page you are on, by simply clicking your mouse over words that have been linked for Accelerators.  As in Web Slices, the web site must have taken advantage of Accelerators, arming key words with these new hidden features. For example, if you highlight text with accelerator features, a special icon shows. CLicking it shows a drop-down list of things you can do, such as mapping, find the itemized word on eBay, map with Live Maps or even translate with Windows Live. Web sites can set their own Accelerator features on any selected text. You can also add additional Accelerators features of your own.

These web technologies and more, were shown to media in Toronto last week on the eve of Mix09, a convention in Las Vegas showing all of Microsoft’s Software Plus Services.

SilverLight, Microsoft’s web media player, now in its third generation, was shown in action on web-based TV. CTV, the first Canadian network to show streaming HD video online impressed me with SilverLight technology playing full-screen streaming video on a 50-inch flat panel that was indistinguishable from traditional cable or satellite feeds.

For now the network is only playing “catch-up” video showing some of its local recent entertainment content like Corner Gas, for free. CTV uses its own online player to play the HD video, automatically changing the quality depending on the users Internet connection speed.

No announced online monetization plans, according to CTV’s Stephen Argent. “We are learning along the way. This is breathtaking technology and fits the ‘user experience is our business model’”, he added.

We are still away from switching from Telus, Shaw or Rogers for delivery of TV content directly to our PCs, but for folks who live off their computer screen, this is the way to go.  For more information go to: www.ctv.ca

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