The ubiquity of the Internet Explorer browser, and its ability to be deployed as an ActiveX component in other applications, must have been seen as a huge boon by lazy software developers everywhere. Now, should they ever need to display text or pictures on the screen they could immediately crack open a copy of this fast and lightweight program, immediately tethering their standard HTML documentation (and in exceptional cases the very usability of their program itself) to the presence of one external piece of software. If you have chosen to uninstall Internet Explorer* and use a superior Gecko-based browser (kMeleon, Mozilla) instead, the result might range from minor inconvenience to complete inability to use a given program.

Some programs that are guilty of this annoying practice:

  • WinMX / Morpheus - A great many peer-to-peer file sharing clients of a legally dubious nature use IE. WinMX uses it for its ads (oops) while Morpheus uses it for practically every operation of the program, inexplicably.
  • Encyclopedia Brittanica CD 99 - Uses a bizarre mixture of Macromedia Director (or something similar) as well as text and images (sometimes text as images, space-consciously enough) randomly thrown out by IE. Doesn't let you install the whole thing to hard disk either. Really forward thinking chaps.
  • Winamp - Bizarrely, the Minibrowser in Winamp uses IE, but then so does AOL's client software. Luckily no one has ever used this feature, and it fails gracefully if IE isn't present.
  • Napster - Well, what do you expect exactly? Effort to have been expended?
Similarly annoying are programs that install vast wodges of Windows Media, usually just to play a 30-second video clip.

I imagine that some people will argue that this is really a good thing, because it expediates the development time of (usually crappy) software. I would counter that there is hardly ever a justification for it, and that it also has the effect of lowering the user's confidence in the developer. Furthermore I think that pushing people into keeping a non-standards-compliant and flaky browser around is bad form, whether it is done by a browser-blocking website or a program that doesn't really need to depend on HTML rendering at all.

It only annoys me a little bit. Enough to write this but not so much that I'm obsessed by it.

*Or, as in my case, you grudgingly reinstall the damn thing only to find that no amount of cajoling will get it to display images. Wierd.

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