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Whenever I write about Microsoft, there are always reader questions about whether a technology is being used to achieve unfair competitive advantage (because it's usually acceptable to use technology for a fair competitive advantage; that is after all what capitalism thrives on). I've recently looked at the changes in CSS and security for the Developer section of The Register (Getting your site sorted for IE 7 The Register and Getting on the right side of IE 7 security)and I had one reader question in particular.
"I just read your piece on IE 7 security. One statement that I found interesting was:
'the filter will also look for sites incorporating content or scripts from another domain'
Since most ad placement systems use scripts that point to another site, like Googles AdSense does this mean Microsoft will effectively be able to block ads from all their competitors... "

Short answer: no. But they might be able to spot redirect ad fraud scripts…

For one thing they're not actually that stupid ;-) At MIX 06, I think the two things I heard most from the IE team were 'sorry' and 'balance'. Sorry we didn't work on the browser as a new release for five years and we want to get the balance between features and security, between ease of development and security - or between just about anything and security - right. And while some search providers don't think supporting OpenSearch and highlighting every OpenSearch compatible site you visit to add as a search provider is enough (question: should the Google toolbar let me add other search sites to the drop-down so I could repeat the image search on Flickr?), the browser team are talking to too many of the ecosystem of Web sites and services to do something so obviously, cluelessly stupid.

Cue the usual distinctions between restricting the dangerous use of a legitimate thing without stopping the everyday use. What you're looking for here is scripts, content and links that divert you from what looks like a real site to the fake one – cross-site scripting attacks, scraping real images from paypal to make your phishing site look legitimate, replacing legitimate HTTP content on a mixed HTTP/HTTPS site (why that's so deprecated) so the instructions tell you to type into the insecure box rather than click the secure button.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
lovingboth
8th Jun, 2006 14:45 (UTC)
s/whether/how/

This may just be me being cynical, but they don't directly make a penny from having a new browser. So the money to cover the costs must come from somewhere, whether that's using it to try to steer people away from Google and towards MSN or some other unfair advantage gained from being able to bundle it with their commercially dominant OS.

marypcb
8th Jun, 2006 15:28 (UTC)
I think it's you misunderstanding the MS business model, which has about as many prongs as a pitchfork.
- a new browser give them more users for an MS browser
- more users = better reputation - remember the share price matters
- more users makes it easier to sell developer tools
- a new browser makes Vista more attractive
- a new browser HUGELY reduces user support costs for MS due to improved security

the fact that an MS browser probably does push people to MSN at least once is actually fairly low down the list. Ads on MSN don't contribute that much to the MS bottom line compared to say sales of Office where the browser is used for help and the Office Online features.

Is it commercially unfair to bundle a browser with the OS? Apple does it. Many users prefer it. Many developers like to have a known browser on the platform to work with. MS didn't kill Netscape; Netscape distributed more copies of the browser than there were Internet users and still couldn't sustain their business model. Is it commercially unfair to include a CD player in the lowest price car you sell? What do people expect in a car or an OS these days? Bullying and making unfair deals, monopolistic. Including more tools - I've never been convinced on that one.
lovingboth
10th Jun, 2006 07:04 (UTC)
I reread an article from a couple of years back on Joel On Software last night, with the very interesting comment that MS have an interest in keeping the capabilities of browsers low - or people would stop buying MS Office and use online equivalents instead. It's ok for the browser to help, but not be a part of replacing the desktop app.

Reminded me that IBM had an interest in not making their PC, AT at al too powerful because it would have taken sales from their more profitable minicomputer line.
marypcb
10th Jun, 2006 14:40 (UTC)
er. the first browser to do Ajax was IE. MS wants a powerful browser so they can build on top of it themselves. You can't replace local software with Web services until you have a 24-7 never off, never slow, always affordable infrastructure. Do you only look at LJ comments online or do you get them offline with the rest of your mail? And shunting stuff back and forth on the wire when you have local processing and storage is a waste. And network security is far more complex than local processing security. The net is not a panacea. Having something in the browser does not give you a free lunch.

The folk on the IE team I've met have the limit of how much they can get done in a working day from where they start (and they'll apologise for the 5 years of not developing as often as you feel it's necessary, though after 10 or more times you start to feel embarrassed). Yes, MS could throw a 100 more developers at IE, but as I say, it's only part of their business model and those 100 developers are off building something that MS finds more commercially immediate.

I meet enough of the folk building software at MS that I find the knee-jerk MS-hating that goes on in places like /. rather tedious and insulting. They're smart people choosing a particular method of getting paid for what they do. We're free to disagree with them and to criticise what they achieve, but assuming they're deliberately crippling what they do? I always favour cockup over conspiracy.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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