IE9 could be outdated in weeks, Sauce Labs says

While Microsoft Corp.’s new Internet Explorer 9 release is receiving positive reviews for its faster performance and streamlined user interface, the launch failed to address the company’s antiquated release cycle, according to software testing firm Sauce Labs Inc.

The San Francisco-based firm is calling on Microsoft to stop developing IE in two-year cycles, which it said will continue to leave many businesses stranded on older versions of the browser. To make this point, Sauce Labs pointed to the monster that “just won’t die,” IE6, highlighting a decision made last month by the U.K. government to stick with the browser because of the cost of migration to a newer version would constitute a significant cost to the taxpayer.

“Upgrading these systems to IE8 can be a very large operation, taking weeks to test and roll out to all users,” read the U.K. government’s official response to a petition signed by 6,000 citizens.

Sauce Labs co-founder Jason Huggins, who also created the Selenium software testing framework to let users run visual tests in a variety of Web browsers and programming languages, said Microsoft should take a page from the books of organizations such as Google Inc. and Mozilla and continually update the browser. He said Google Chrome’s updater does such a good job of silently updating Chrome users that it’s actually difficult for users to avoid running the latest version of browser.

“Google explicitly says they’re going to be releasing new versions of Chrome every six weeks,” Huggins said. “They just don’t make a big deal about it.”

“You don’t download Google Chrome 3, 4, or 5,” he added. “It’s just Google Chrome.”

With its IE9 launch, Microsoft spent its time painting a compelling picture of what users expect from their online experience today. “The browser is saying, ‘Look at the site, not look at the browser,’” Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice-president at Microsoft, said at the launch event.

But while this “big bang, opt-in” approach does a good job of capturing the headlines, Huggins said, it also puts an unnecessary burden on users and IT shops.

“Microsoft didn’t learn its lesson with the way it approached IE9,” he said.

The fact that Microsoft has caught up to its competitors with a fast browser and support for technologies such as HTML5 is great, Huggins said, but its release cycle means the browser will quickly be lagging behind in a few weeks or months after Google, Apple, and Mozilla roll out their updates and continue taking advantage of new technologies such as WebGL and WebSockets.

Huggins said Microsoft has stuck to its lengthy release cycle primarily to appease IT managers. Many IT shops want to be able to lock down their environment and stick with one version of one browser to do so, he said.

The problem, however, is that the vast majority of enterprises will lag behind, using unsecure browsers such as IE6 for far too long

Huggins recommends that IT managers consider supporting multiple browsers and change the way they deal with browser updates. Instead of worrying about upgrading every few years, it’s a lot healthier to “bite the bullet more frequently” and continually evaluate browsers.

“It forces efficiency and flushes out situations sooner,” he said.  It’s no longer IT’s role to dictate the browsers staff and customers use, Huggins said, and the healthy way to deal with this change is to get used to “change more often.”

He added that IT departments that allow Google Chrome into their environment are not “standing up and demanding that Google slows down their release cycle.” 

“If you are IT shop and want to certify the release and optimize the new version, that’s great, but that should not be the default behaviour,” Huggins said.

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