Can IE8 Really Tempt You Back to Microsoft?

Internet Explorer 8.0 is now available and, by all accounts, it's a decent web browser. But really, who cares?

Let's get the good stuff out of the way first. IE8 is, to be clear, a significant improvement over Internet Explorer 7.0. (And that particular release was Microsoft's first worthwhile attempt to grab the coat tails of Mozilla.)

Despite feeling a tad cluttered and on occasion being a little slow, Internet Explorer 8.0 is, according to a general consensus of expert opinion, a good thing. (Former PCWorld.com editor Harry McCracken has some interesting thoughts on IE8, and our own RC1 review is well worth a browse [pun intended].)

So. I come not to bury IE8, I come to, well, say... 'meh'.

If you're the sort of person who simply follows Windows' prompts in getting online, the fact that IE8 now sports features reminiscent of Mozilla Firefox 3.0 is good news. (But that's not you, or else why are you reading PCAdvisor.co.uk? Hmmm?)

We live, my friends, in times of unprecedented web-browser riches. On my desktop(s) as of this minute I have Firefox, Google Chrome, Flock and Opera windows open. Literally on the top of my desk, my phone is running Apple Safari (and if it wasn't an Apple iPhone I'd be all over Opera Mini).

Full disclosure: the web is a major tool of my (so-called) trade, and I happen also to write about it, so you'd expect me to differ from the norm. But here's an interesting stat: of 1.6m desktop visitors to PCAdvisor.co.uk in January this year, 39 percent used Internet Explorer 7.0, and 33 percent Firefox. Opera (7%), Safari (4%) and Chrome (3%) bring up the rear, so to speak.

That's a long way from global web browser market share figures, which in February 2009 had all flavours of Internet Explorer at a whopping 67 percent, Firefox on only 22 percent, and the rest scrabbling for loose change.

This suggests that a significantly larger proportion of those people who are interested in technology don't use Internet Explorer. Or, to put it another way, web-savvy people try things other than IE, and tend to stay there.

Of course, Microsoft is unlikely to lose any sleep. It retains a whopping market share in this, and indeed almost all, areas of software manufacture. Its user base is without compare. But as the PC market expands and fragments into different form factors and flavours, mobile internet use grows, and the web becomes the de facto computing platform, the trend away from Internet Explorer is unlikely to reverse.

I mean, what would convince you to switch back to Internet Explorer?

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