Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Mac Web Ghetto

I don't like to toot my own horn (much) but back in 1998, I wrote about how Microsoft was making it so easy to develop Web applications that soon most corporate development shops would think of the Web as something that originated in Redmond. Well, I was reminded of that realization this week when surfing around on my Mac, and finding out that I can't get to certain parts of the Internet. I now live in a Mac ghetto as far as the Web is concerned, and like most ghettos, it isn't easy getting out of it – unless you happen to have a Windows PC nearby.

I couldn't connect to the Web site of my doctor's office to make any appointment, because their site only wants patients to enter on IE and Windows. I am testing some security appliances for Information Security magazine, and some of their configuration pages also expect to see IE and Windows. I thought I would upgrade to QuickBooks online rather than buy some new software -- but guess what? It only runs on IE and Windows! And the OfficeLive service from Microsoft – which by the way is very cool and is an absolutely free Web hosting solution – only runs on IE and Windows. The list goes on and on.

Fortunately, I run both MacOS and Windows here, so it is more of an annoyance than a showstopper. But still, the message is clear: if you use anything other than Windows, you are not worthy. Go the store and buy a real OS.

The Microsoft Web has been happening for some time. As I wrote several years ago, developers are building Web-based applications using tools and servers from Microsoft. They run on IIS with ASP, and use Visual Studio and of course assume that Internet Explorer is the intended browser so they write these apps accordingly. And if they dabble in Java, they use the Windows version of Java that doesn't quite work on non-Windows platforms.

Microsoft's tools certainly can deliver the richest, coolest Web stuff in the shortest time. Of course! That is their not-so-secret plan. They get what makes developers tick and then they supply the Microsoft-flavored crack that keeps their programming mojo pumped. It is a wonderful thing, no? Sun, bless them, still can't figure this out. IBM with all of its Eclipse and open-this-and-that, can't figure this out.

Well, there are some bumps in the road, especially with the latest version of IE, version 7. Some of the IE faithful are finding out that things can be painful under the Microsoft Web. IE7 breaks a lot of stuff, and not everyone has tested – or adjusted -- their apps for the new browser. Eventually, we will all work out the bugs, I am sure, because we have no choice.

Remember the days when the Web was "browser-agnostic" – meaning that you could run anybody's browser to view any Web page? That's so over, so quaint. Now we can't even build a Web that is "IE agnostic" to run on any two IE versions, let alone versions of IE back to say, v5, which seems like ancient history but is still pretty much in active use on many desktops today. That is one of the problems of the Microsoft Web: it flies in the face of what the Internet used to be all about: writing to internationally accepted standards that actually meant something.

Oh, come off it, Strom. (You might be saying.) So what? Look at what happened to Netscape, who took the standards high road? They got AOLized, and then sank after a cameo appearance at the Microsoft monopoly trial. Who needs standards when Uncle Bill can take care of all of us? Aren't we better off with just running Windows?

Not really. The Web deserves better than to become yet another Microsoft business unit. There is a reason why I still use my Mac as my main business computer, so I can save the countless hours that I would have spent fixing spyware attacks and redoing my OS when it gets messed up with somebody's idea of a good joke. But it means that I have to live in my Mac ghetto, and that's a shame. Because it means that now we are locked into the Microsoft Web.

No comments:

About Me

My photo
David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.