Is Internet Explorer’s Reputation Repairable?

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My column this week is about the golden age of Web browsers we’re currently living in–and especially the release this week of Internet Explorer 9. The browser, which debuted on Monday at the South by Southwest Interactive geekfest in Austin, is the best new Microsoft browser in eons. It’s on a par with other major browsers in most respects that matter and ahead of them in some, and has plenty of stuff to appeal to serious browser fans. (One notable exception: It’s not as ambitious a platform for third-party add-ins as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.)

I’m still not sure, though, whether serious browser fans–the sort who defected from IE years ago for Firefox, and who may have moved on to Chrome more recently–have any interest in coming back to IE. For one thing, they may be content with the browser they’ve got. For another, I get the sense that the reputation of the Internet Explorer name has been so poor for so long that some folks who might like the new version if they tried it are instinctively resistant to the notion.

If former IE users give the new version a fair shake, the long slide in Microsoft’s share of the browser market might reverse itself. If they don’t, IE could continue being what it’s been for years–the most popular browser choice among people who don’t care enough about browsers to choose one. I make no predictions, but it’s going to be fun to watch what happens.

Back in 2008, Microsoft ran a strange experiment in which it showed the much-maligned Windows Vista to clueless PC users–but told them that it was a secret upcoming version of Windows known as “Mojave.” They loved it. I wonder how savvy browser users would respond to Internet Explorer 9 if they didn’t know it was IE–or that it was from Microsoft, period?