Friday, September 17, 2010

Microsoft is back to playing lock-in games with Pinned Sites feature in Internet Explorer 9

This post is based on an unverified assumption that the Pinned Sites feature in IE9 is "closed", that is, it's a proprietary Microsoft feature, and cannot be implemented in other browsers.

Sometimes I wonder whether I admire or despise Microsoft Corporation. The company houses brilliant-minded individuals and churns out high-quality products. And the same company also uses evil practices to choke competitors and lock customers into its products. Windows API is perhaps the best example of the latter.

Pinned Sites is the latest in a long series of intelligent, but customer-locking features launched by Microsoft.

Official description of Pinned Sites (Source: Microsoft)

This clever feature - a wolf hiding in a sheep's clothes - is marketed in the familiar customer-friendly tone typically used in Microsoft documentation. But most won't see the predator hidden in this feature. The feature essentially locks the icon of a Pinned Site to Internet Explorer 9, instead of working in a browser-neutral fashion. Windows 7 users using this feature will see icons of their favorite Web destinations in the taskbar of Windows 7, and will click these icons to reach the desired destinations - in Internet Explorer 9.

The genius part of this feature is that it exposes that the Web browser is merely a means to an end. From the user's perspective, the icons in Windows 7's taskbar apparently remove the browser from the equation by taking a user directly to the desired destinations. Also, this feature - I don't know if others realize its importance - allows tight integration of Web based applications with the OS, helping to bridge the gap between Web applications and traditional applications. The evil part of this feature is that it can unknowingly force users to use IE 9. On their parents' machines, kiddies will create one-click icons to the Web destinations of choice of their parents, and the parents will thus forcibly use IE 9. Websites might strike deals with Dell, HP, Sony, etc., that mandate placement of one or more Pinned Site icons to these websites, in exchange for a few bucks per machine, forcing most users who use these websites to use IE 9 (most users try the easiest/quickest methods they can think of, and they can think of only little, and Pinned Sites clearly is for such users).

I don't know if an antitrust complaint will be filed by a competitor (Google, Mozilla, Opera, etc.), but I believe it should be - this genuinely helpful feature should be browser-neutral.

Update (19-Sep-10): I totally hate the fact that this feature allows traditionally-platform-agnostic websites to create platform-specific extensions (currently only for Windows 7). I'm probably not able to imagine Microsoft's long-term goals with Pinned Sites (and other features in the pipeline), but I'm worried that such features might start locking websites to Windows OS.

1 comment:

  1. Update (22-Sep-10):

    "Wouldn't it be great if your web sites and applications weren't trapped in the browser? Internet Explorer 9 melts into the background bringing your sites forward and seamlessly integrates with Windows so that they are more like the applications you use every day on your PC."

    With IE9, Microsoft is trying to convert platform-independent websites into Windows-dependent ("integrated") online services. It's bad. Really bad. I DON'T want Web developers to start having dependence on the user's OS.