Ars Technica brings word of a pair of interesting efforts underway over at the Mozilla Project -- both aimed at improving Internet Explorer, whether Microsoft likes it or not.
Both of these projects are impressive pieces of technology. But unfortunately both attempts to improve IE are unlikely to succeed in the ways that their authors would like -- and it's easy to see why. It's safe to say that IE users tend to be among the web's least technically sophisticated. These are exactly the people who can least reasonably be expected to install modular improvements to their browser's underlying technology. It's hard to imagine anyone finding it easier to do this than to simply download and begin using Firefox -- a task that's already clearly too complicated for many people. And that's to say nothing of the difficulty of getting the word out in the first place.
The right solution is the same as it's always been: for Microsoft to fix its abysmally noncompliant browser. They wouldn't even have to do it themselves! As Tom Raftery suggested some time ago, Microsoft could simply open-source IE. Superficially, this seems like a good fix: it's not as if IE is a profit center for Microsoft, and Apple has already shown the viability of the approach with its open source WebKit HTML rendering engine. A bold step like that could go a long way to bolstering what has thus far been a fairly anemic stab at open source on Redmond's part.
But of course it will never happen. As some of Raftery's commenters pointed out, IE probably couldn't be open sourced without revealing critical -- and valuable -- Windows code. More to the point, Microsoft wants a broken browser. Not supporting <canvas> means that no one will rely on it, which in turn means less competition for Microsoft's rich client library Silverlight -- created to solve the problem of missing <canvas>-like functionality (among other things). More broadly, a world of webapps that are perpetually forced to accommodate IE's underachieving status means less time spent by users in the cloud, and consequently a bit more relevance for MS. Put simply, IE's awfulness isn't a bug, it's a feature.
This is hardly an original observation, but that doesn't make it any less true. And that means that the answer to IE's persistence is the same as it's always been: for Safari, Opera, Firefox et al to consistently provide a better browsing experience and thereby compel Microsoft to fix its mistakes -- as it at least began to do with IE7. Unfortunately, that's something that they're going to have to do for themselves.