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Browser wars: the ceasefire is over

15 July 2009  |  5655 views  |  0

If you work in a bank, you're probably using a browser that hasn't been updated since Bill Clinton was in the White House.

That's about to change, and it's going to transform the way the web is used in banks.

When web browsers first became widely used in the early 1990s, Netscape Navigator was the only serious game in town. With Microsoft's release of IE4 in 1997, the browser wars began in earnest, and of course Microsoft eventually trashed Netscape - mainly (according to the US Dept of Justice) by cheating.

By the time IE6 was released in 2001 the first browser war was over, and Microsoft was no longer interested in making further major improvements. They had wrestled the evil Web monster to the ground; and, as long as they had it trapped, there was no reason to feed it.

Since then, home users and smaller firms have tended to keep up with the later Microsoft releases - IE7, IE8 - and most have now switched to newer, much better browsers such as Firefox (the reincarnation of Netscape), Safari and, more recently, Chrome. But the SysAdmins in banks and other big corporations have seen no reason to go to the trouble of upgrading their users to anything more current than IE6, or at best the marginally better IE7. The reason? No new features have been introduced since then that seemed necessary for the primary use case: looking at vanilla web pages.

The result is that most users in the larger financial institutions are still stuck with a browser that's eight years out of date.

But wait. Looking at web pages is no longer the only thing people do with browsers. Increasingly, they use them to run Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). Sometimes these are created using plugins such as Java, Flash or Silverlight, and don't run "in" the browser at all. But increasingly - and for very good reasons - they are based on Ajax, the browser's native application technology.

And this is where IE6 and IE7 really fall flat on their faces. They are more than ten times slower than the best modern browsers, and have a host of other problems running Ajax applications.

Of course, the best Ajax trading apps support IE6 and IE7 and work ok in those browsers. But they work vastly better in newer browsers.

When all people did with their browsers was check the sports scores, IE6 was ok. But now people use browsers for actual trading, it definitely isn't.

If that wasn't enough, there are rapid moves towards withdrawing support for IE6 completely across most websites. (See for example here, here, here, here...)

Change is in the air, and once it starts it's going to happen fast. The most nimble banks are already moving to IE8 (definitely an improvement), and some are looking at really good browsers like Firefox, Safari and Chrome.

And once people in financial institutions finally have a browser on their desktops that can run RIAs at the speed of desktop apps, everything is going to move to the web.

Just watch.

[Follow-up story here]

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Comments: (1)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member | 09 September, 2009, 15:54

Follow-up comment: Browser wars: news from the trenches

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