What Does It Mean To Suck Less?

Internet Explorer wants you to know that it sucks less now. But sucking less is way different than being good.

Do you remember when Domino’s spent months telling people that, yes, their pizza sucked, but after trying really, really hard, they finally figured how to produce a pizza that didn’t make you instantly want to throw up so hard you forgot what pizza ever was? That they had succeeded in, by at least the narrowest possible definition, “sucking less.” The central premise of Microsoft’s Internet campaign for the new Internet Explorer is roughly the same: “IE sucked, our bad. It’s good now, honest!” The campaign’s website is thebrowseryoulovedtohate.com. LOLOLLipops all around.

In this spot, instead of furrow-browed “chefs” shaking their heads at user focus groups in a state of quivering existential woe before rallying to create DANG, the greatest pizza to ever come out of an industrial kitchen, a cheerful IE social media account directly confronts a very angry young white man, whom the commercial would like you to identify as a “troll.” (Because trolls are by definition unreasonable. And only an unreasonable person wouldn’t believe how great the new IE is.)

The thing is, this “troll” isn’t being entirely unreasonable for hanging on to his deep resentment of Internet Explorer, even if IE is good now. At least if he was on the Internet a decade or so ago: Microsoft’s virtual monopoly on Web browsers after it crushed Netscape essentially shoved innovation on the WEb into carbonite for years. Five years passed between the release of Internet Explorer 6 and IE7. (Google’s Chrome, launched in 2008, is currently on version 23.) Where would the Web be now if we had the same kind of insane developments in browsers and open standards between 2001 and 2006 that we’ve had between 2007 and now, as browsers like Firefox Chrome and Safari have gone mainstream, resparking the browser wars?

The funny thing about Microsoft’s “sucks less now” campaign is that the Internet’s deeply held belief that Internet Explorer sucks — the one this campaign is trying to break — does actually continue to make IE suck in some contexts, even though the technology inside is finally decent and supports Web standards. Mobile, for instance, is a particular sore spot for IE10. (Windows Phone uses basically the same IE as the Windows on your computer.) So, an open-source browser engine called WebKit has essentially become the standard for mobile browsers — it powers the browsers on the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices and more recently, BlackBerry — and it’s the engine that mobile websites, by and large, are designed and coded around. When mobile sites see Internet Explorer, particularly ones designed to function like Web apps, they often resort to a garbage page designed for mobile phones circa 2005. Until very recently, even Twitter sent Windows Phone users to a laughable shitheap of a website. So the IE experience can, indeed, still suck for users, even if the browser itself doesn’t suck anymore. And on mobile, this probably won’t get fixed writ large until Windows Phone has solid market share, which might take a while.

So, IE10 may well be an amazing browser now. But that won’t matter until the Internet in fact stops loving to hate it.

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