Microsoft Windows 8, Office 2013, IE10 and the Consequences for Web Developers

By Craig Buckler
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Microsoft revealed this week that Windows 8 will be released on Friday October 26, 2012. The editions have been simplified:

  • Windows 8
    the primary version for the home market.
  • Windows 8 Pro
    Windows 8 with professional features including Remote Desktop server, file encryption, virtualization, VHD booting, etc. Windows Media Center is not included but will be available at additional cost in a Media Pack.
  • Windows 8 Enterprise
    Windows 8 Pro with features to assist software management in larger organizations.
  • Windows RT
    Only available as a pre-installed OS on ARM-based tablets.

Until January 31 2013, existing Windows XP, Vista and 7 users can obtain a downloadable upgrade for $40. It doesn’t matter which version you’re running; you can switch to Windows 8 standard or Pro for the same price. The aggressive discount is good news for web developers; many XP users will upgrade and abandon legacy versions of Internet Explorer.

Windows 8

Windows 8 provides several new opportunities. Native Windows applications can be developed in HTML5 and JavaScript, websites can interact with Metro UI tiles, a chromeless browser is available and the new Windows Marketplace can monetize your development efforts.

Whether users like the OS is another matter. Windows 8 is a radical departure from previous editions and, while Metro may be ideal for tablets, it could confuse those using desktop PCs. Abandoning the ‘Start’ button after 18 years will either be a courageous and innovative decision or a disaster of Vista-like proportions.

Microsoft Office 2013

According to the Microsoft system requirements, Office 2013 will only be available on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012. Companies using XP or Vista must therefore:

  1. retain an older suite (even if they’ve paid for ongoing Office upgrades), or
  2. migrate to Windows 7/8.

Those choosing the second option will not (or cannot) remain on IE8. It’s possible that the decision to drop XP/Vista support from Office will encourage more browser upgrades than Windows 8 itself.

Internet Explorer 10

While IE10 could arrive earlier, I suspect Microsoft will reveal their new browser on the same date. IE9 may have been a match for competing browsers when it was released, but it is 18 months old in October. It’s been left behind and an upgrade is long overdue.

IE10 looks impressive. If they can deliver the promised HTML5 feature set, performance and automated updates, Microsoft will regain more respect from the web developer community.

Unsurprisingly, IE10 will not run on Windows XP. Unfortunately, it won’t run on Vista either. While Vista was hardly a success for Microsoft, it currently accounts for 8.1% of desktop users — that’s higher than all versions of Mac OS combined.

Vista is dropping, but at a far slower rate than XP. It was Microsoft’s flagship OS less than three years ago and anyone who purchased a PC at the time still has capable hardware running Vista. While it’s easy to berate the early versions, the OS did improve with age — many users had little reason to upgrade.

We therefore have Windows XP users stuck on IE8 and Vista users stuck on IE9. That situation could continue for many years if Windows 8 isn’t a success.

IE Legacy Versions

IE10 is an important psychological leap: IE8 will be two versions old. The browser won’t die overnight but it’s another nail the coffin.

However, web developers still need to test IE8. IE6 and IE7 haven’t disappeared completely, either. It’s not possible to install the legacy browsers on the same PC and, while there are some useful tools such as IE’s compatibility modes and IETester, they’re not identical and can only be used for superficial testing.

Windows 7 offers XP Mode; a virtual copy of Windows XP allowing real installations of IE6, 7 and 8 to run as though they were native applications. It was the primary reason I opted for Windows 7 Professional, although it could also be run on the Home edition if you had a spare XP license.

Windows 8 has dropped XP Mode, although it does provide built-in Hyper-V OS machine virtualization. It’s therefore possible to run XP VMs for IE testing without additional software such as VirtualBox or VMware. I’ll miss XP Mode but there will be fewer reasons to use it when the old browsers are dead and buried.

The EU Browser Choice Screen

On March 1, 2010 the EU forced Microsoft to offer a browser choice screen so European users could choose an alternative to Internet Explorer. The system has been beset with problems such as accusations of unfair bias and non-random array shuffling algorithms.

Microsoft has now subjected itself to further EU investigations. A technical issue has prevented the screen appearing on fresh installations of Windows 7 SP1 since February 2011 and up to 28 million customers may have been affected. Microsoft has apologized but EU investigators have stated there will be sanctions if an infringement is confirmed.

I’m not convinced the browser choice screen had a significant impact on market share. It arrived a decade too late, made little difference during the year it was operational and Chrome managed to overtake IE without assistance. Its re-introduction will not influence IE6/7/8 migration since most Windows 7 users already have IE9 … but the law is law and the screen must appear in Windows 8 (Windows RT is another matter, but I’ll save that debate for another article).

Mostly Good Then?

Whether you’re a Microsoft user or not, the combination of competitive Windows 8 upgrades, Office 2013 and IE10 is good news for web developers. While IE on XP and Vista remains a concern, the older versions should die out at an increased rate and HTML5 application development will become easier.

Let’s just hope Microsoft can keep pace with the other vendors. Frequent Chrome/Firefox-like updates are not necessary, but 18-24 months between IE versions is an eon in web-time.

(For the record, I am a Windows user. This article contains my own opinions and has not been financed by Microsoft or one of their competitors. Let the pro/anti-Microsoft comments commence!…)

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