Many pundits who review software are saying that Microsoft has "caught up" with Firefox in Internet Explorer 7 (here and here, among others).
I beg to differ. Since the mid-1990s, what Microsoft has done — time after time — is deliver pale imitations of others' UI inventions. Have you ever used the View menu in Outlook? Of course not…because it's a bad imitation of Notes release 3's view menu, which Lotus dumped in about 1996.
Have you seen Office 2007? This is the first release in which Microsoft has done it all itself, having abandoned the "common user access" design metaphor it ripped off from IBM during the 1980s joint venture. (Historical note: the menu system and windows graphic controls descended from an IBM product called GDDM, which lead to OS/2 Presentation Manager. In fact, Microsoft used to actually distributed the IBM Common User Access manuals with Windows 3.1 SDK's.)
Office 2007 is a complete mess. The eye candy gets in the way of anything you want to do, reduces screen real estate for the actual work to near nothing and doesn't make life any easier for novices. That's what you get when Microsoft tries to "innovate." And as for Vista, well…I don't use a Mac, but even I can see they've copied Tiger.
Tonight a single difference between IE7 and Firefox 2.0 crystallized this for me.
You can almost hear the design discussion in Microsoft during the IE7 planning meetings: "We gotta get us some tabbed browsing. It's killing us to not have it. Put it in…now."
So, you end up with IE7's "interpretation" of tabbed browsing, which includes a close box (the red "x") on each tab.
What happens if you accidentally hit that close button? I have, and I'll bet thousands of others have in a rush to get somewhere else on the screen in a hurry. In IE7, you've lost that tab. It's gone. You gotta open a new window and reload the page.
In Firefox — which admittedly didn't have the close box until Firefox 2.0 — the developers have really innovated. You can undo the close. Check out these two images from the context menu (right click menu) of each browser:
See the "undo close tab" selection? Click this, and a new tab is opened and the last page is reloaded. True innovation from the open-source Firefox folks.
Here's the equivalent context menu from IE7:
A pale imitation, to be sure. Just enough for Microsoft to obscure, once again, true innovation by delivering "just enough" to say they have the thing they couldn't invent themselves.
OK, you say, nobody uses context menus and nobody ever undoes an accidental close.
Maybe (though I found it and used it). But my point is about innovation.
Microsoft just doesn't have any.