In recent days, a wave of warnings from industry (Google, among others) and governments (from Germany to Australia and others) on the vulnerabilities of IE6 has resulted in a rush for users to download Firefox (www.mozilla.com), the primary alternative browser to IE. On a worldwide level, IE6 (released in 2001) is just one major variant of the IE browser family, and has been steadily replaced by the newer IE7 and IE8.
The scene in China is markedly different. Tons of websites, including commonly used ones, have been constructed and tested to work with IE6 only, without consideration of web standard (W3C), non-IE browsers (Firefox), or non-Windows platforms (Linux). This proliferation of non-standard websites is partly the result of ignorance. Remember the recent Green Dam fiasco? Green Dam was designed to block undesirable websites, but it only works if you access the web with IE. If you use Firefox, Green Dam has no effect. Another reason is financial. Contractors in China who produce websites for a living charge extra if you ask for a website that is W3C compliant or that is friendly to non-IE and non-Windows machines. Since most Chinese users use IE (NetApplications puts Firefox market share in China at 8% at the end of 2009) or an IE-clone such as 360 or Maxthon (more on that later), it seems that there is no reason to pay extra.
As a result, the Internet in China is stuck in an IE6 tar pit. Exhibit A is really ironic. Recall the latest push to have all website owners in China to register? Well, the registration website at MIIT (the ministry in charge) is IE6 only. Without IE6, you cannot file your registration information. (See reportage at http://www.donews.com/Content/200912/841eaefc655a401e9636a2603333ae6d.shtm) It would be amusing to see how MIIT responds to the latest scare over IE6 security problems. And I have not talked much about all the very publicized government push to procure Linux desktop machines for government workers, and the inability of these workers to access many of their own websites.
It is well known that online banking in China is strictly a Windows and IE6 love affair. Even open-source companies such as Sun Microsystems and Red Hat must stock their finance office in Beijing with Windows PCs; otherwise no work can be done through any of the major Chinese banks (see more at http://www.zeuux.org/philosophy/open-letter-to-cmb.cn.html). But this love affair with IE6 goes beyond these and into the arbitrary territory. In October of 2009, the province of Inner Mongolia issued a new directive that exams for accounting certificates will now be conducted entirely paperless. The exam environment is speced out clearly (http://www.esnai.com/exam/showdoc.asp?NewsID=48294&uchecked=true) – Windows 2000/2003 servers on the backend, and Windows XP Professional and IE6 on the exam PCs. You wonder what sort of accounting exam this is, because it also requires that the PCs are dual-core and have at least 1G memory. The exam system even requires 3721, the most notorious and (widely accepted as the) “original” viral software that helped shape the China Internet industry into its lawless state today.
Now let us return to the topic of IE clones. An IE clone is a software that wraps something around the IE core and declares itself a browser. Some clones offer additional functionalities while others make you question their existence. No matter. There are about 35 IE clones that the local research company iResearch has been tracking. TT (an offshoot of QQ the popular IM software), 360 (a self-claimed “secure browser”), and Maxthon (the original successful IE clone) each take a large share of the browser market. Why so many companies do browsers? For one thing, it is cheap to do an IE clone. It has been estimated that you need about 5 people, roughly the same number of people to start a mobile phone company in southern China (if you buy ready-made components from MTK and just slap a case on it). Furthermore, you can be really lazy if you want – one very notable IE clone here simply appropriated the IE icon for its own use. (As far as I know, Microsoft has not sued.) However, the IE clone world is not all scenic, because the IE core is not open or transparent, so the wrapping around is by trial and error, and often produces problems such as sudden death. Worse, someone else (Microsoft) owns the underbelly and can do unexpected things. When IE8 came out in early 2009, there was a major crisis because the clones stopped working when users upgraded to IE8, and of course thousands of major websites suddenly became useless (http://ent.sina.com.cn/c/2009-02-20/11472383794.shtml). But that has not deterred the clone makers. After the recent Google bombshell, one of the clones shamelessly proclaimed that because IE is insecure people should use their browser instead. Sure looks like that these guys are banking on the ignorance of the Internet users in China.
In most parts of the world, the Internet has helped alleviate ignorance. That has not happened in China, yet; not to a satisfyingly significant degree, at least. This is rather depressing as John Steinbeck wrote in The Pearl – “ignorance leads to subjugation and oppression.”
Posted by: lgong