Microsoft pushes users to ditch XP with IE9 plans, says analyst

Opportunity for rivals, especially Firefox, to gain users; Chrome need not apply

Microsoft's decision to abandon Windows XP with its next browser is a business move meant to push people off the aged operating system, an analyst said today.

It also gives rivals like Mozilla an opportunity to make further inroads into Internet Explorer's market share, said Sheri McLeish of Forrester Research. "XP is in that same world as Office 2003 and IE6," said McLeish. "Microsoft doesn't want to prolong the life of those products."

McLeish was reacting to Microsoft's stated plans not to support its next-generation browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), in Windows XP. Google, which creates Chrome, criticized that decision yesterday during a panel discussion at Web 2.0 on the future of browsers.

"It's not in [Microsoft's] interest to support XP," McLeish added. "They have a vision of moving people ahead on operating systems. That's their business intent."

Microsoft will not craft a version of IE9 for XP because it's adding graphics processor-based acceleration to the browser. That acceleration relies on APIs (applications programming interfaces) that are built into Windows 7 and were added to Vista in October 2009, but that are not available in the older OS.

Noting that Microsoft will meet, and in fact exceed, its usual 10-year support policy for XP -- the operating system is slated for final retirement in April 2014, nearly 13 years after its release -- McLeish said Internet Explorer 9's (IE9) non-support for the old Operating System (OS) was a business decision by Microsoft. "As time goes on, XP will get less attention paid to it by Microsoft," she said.

She also thought that the noise about XP's inability to run IE9 is a moot point for enterprises. "There are few large customers that don't have an upgrade plan [from XP] in place," she said. "Most firms now running XP are planning to upgrade to Windows 7." IE9 runs on Windows 7.

But a window of opportunity exists for browser rivals, particularly Mozilla, over the next several years as small businesses and consumers continue to run Windows XP. Both Google and Mozilla are working on boosting their Chrome and Firefox browsers' by tapping into hardware acceleration, even on XP.

"This is an opportunity for them," said McLeish, referring to Mozilla. More enterprise administrators are telling her that they've either allowed Firefox on their networks, or are considering the idea. "As they're moving off IE6, they're looking at Mozilla and Firefox."

Chrome, on the other hand, has little traction in corporations, although Google's browser continues to outpace all other browsers in usage share gains . Google's browser will get little respect from IT administrators, partly because of the battles between Microsoft and Google in the fight over online applications, said McLeish.

Microsoft has said it will not officially support Chrome or Opera Software's Opera for the online versions of its Office 2010 applications, for example, which means enterprises committed to Office 2010, and that offer workers the Web-based versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, have little reason to allow Chrome into their environments.

Some pundits worry that IE9's exclusion of XP leaves millions of users out in the cold when it comes to HTML5, the still-under-consideration specification for the next version of the Web's primary development framework.

Microsoft has been hammering on the benefits of HTML5, and its support within IE9, with the company's IE chief Dean Hachamovitch at the forefront.

McLeish didn't see any reason for XP users to immediately panic; there's plenty of time before HTML5 supplants Flash, if it ever does. "There's a real tension between Adobe and Apple on Flash versus HTLM5," she said, talking about the public mud-slinging going on between those two firms. "But Microsoft would like to play in both worlds, Flash and HTML5."

Microsoft's Hachamovitch said as much earlier this week on the IE blog . "Of course, IE9 will continue to support Flash and other plug-ins," he said. "We fully expect to support plug-ins (of all types, including video) along with HTML5."

IE9 is currently in what Microsoft's called "Platform Preview," a pre-alpha stage that lacks a user interface wrapper around the technology. Microsoft hasn't revealed a schedule for releasing a public beta, much less a final.

Based on Microsoft's past IE development cycles, McLeish believes IE9 could be as far away as a year. "I think they're ahead of schedule, but there's a lot that's unclear," she said. "I'm thinking a year from now we'll see a final [of IE9]."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

Read more about browsers in Computerworld's Browsers Knowledge Center.

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Gregg Keizer

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