IE’s location field is the command line

John Gruber is talking about the web becoming the dominant application deployment platform over at Daring Fireball. He rightly points out the (severe) usability implications of web-based apps, and goes on to opine that these implications don’t matter—web applications are becoming dominant despite these implications—and that web apps are easier for an organisation to maintain. No rollout procedures. And he’s right. However, rarely for Gruber, he’s wrong further down:

Most email web apps (e.g. Gmail and Yahoo Mail) run on any computer with IE, Safari, or any Mozilla-derived browser. Most weblog web apps (e.g. Blogger, Movable Type, WordPress, and Textpattern) run in every browser I’ve ever tried. These apps are effectively usable from any Internet-connected computer in the world…There are certainly exceptions — banking sites come to mind — but for the most part, web apps are being built to run in any modern browser, not just IE.

That’s true for apps that are on the web, true. And those are the apps that home users will use—Gmail or Yahoo Mail to read their email, WordPress or Blogger to write their weblog. Even banking sites are getting better. The issue here is corporate apps; real bought software. A high proportion of enterprise-class applications now come with a web front end as well as or instead of a native client. And you know what? Damn nearly all the ones I’ve seen are IE-only. I rail against this every time we look at an application at my company. I always, always ask the sales team whether the front-end is cross-browser. And most of the time it isn’t. Corporate users don’t use Gmail (well, they do, but they do it in their lunch hour or while the boss isn’t looking). IE’s blatant incompatibility, and enterprise developers’ coding for that incompatibility, locks corporate desktops as surely into Windows as Microsoft Office does. I freely admit that there are some things that IE does which other browsers do not: I’ve been advocating switching to Firefox (or previous incarnations) at work for well over a year now, but we can’t do it until we get seamless authentication where the user isn’t asked for a username or password when accessing our intranet. Those things, however, while critical, won’t solve the problem if they are fixed.

I wonder if perhaps we need the opposite of Dean Edwards’ IE7, some JavaScript which emulates all things IE in Mozilla, implemented as a Firefox extension. Then you just install the extension and suddenly all IE sites work. It’s not as if IE is a moving target at the moment. It would be good if we could, in some way, detect whether the site you’re viewing is expecting IE—if they use JavaScript, we can look for accesses to document.all, but we could also try and detect IE-style CSS or IE-style HTML —and switch in the extension’s changes if that’s the case. Still wouldn’t solve my seamless authentication problem, but it’d be a neat way of getting Firefox to support the sites that it doesn’t currently support without polluting the browser itself.