According to Ars Technica, Microsoft is considering an attempt to distance itself and the reputation of its browser offering (a considerable contributor the success or failure of Microsoft's Primary Operating Sysem and, indeed, the company itself) by renaming the browser. Indeed, over the past several years, IE's performance and security shortcomings have tarnished the brand significantly. The news comes as a result of an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit with members of the Internet Explorer development Team.
I read the Reddit AMA session myself and was surprised at the revelations (and several smaller bon mots that I'm sure will be discussed in detail with the MSFT employees by the company's legal and HR personnel....probably shortly before the engineers are relieved of their employment by the company). Certainly, MSFT has a brand issue to deal with here: if IE is perceived as a poor browser choice by consumers, Microsoft's intent to capitalize on the current of the internet to buoy the company's performance will be thwarted before it even starts. And, indeed, at the moment, most consumers rightly have a bad taste in their mouths over the browser. But is Microsoft really, as alleged by the developers who participated in the AMA session, really trying to whitewash over their brand problems with a renaming attempt for Internet Explorer? Would it actually help?
If a renaming attempt of the browser were successful, it could help but I don't think it would solve their problem. Microsoft's branding problem both starts and ends with the Microsoft brand. I think that Microsoft, as a brand, probably has as much going for it as it does against. But, at this stage, the effectiveness of any individual Microsoft product's brand is inextricably bound up with the corporate brand. Microsoft would be ill-advised to underestimate that its customer-base has a pretty good understanding of the importance of the internet to its future as a company. In as much as the browser is still the primary component most people use to access the 'net, even as dedicated apps on mobile devices, gaming platforms and the like ascend to eclipse that current usage model, the importance of the browser is obvious...particularly if it is a critical piece of the operating system (platform), which is still the primary thrust of Microsoft's whole business model. Again, I don't think this is lost on the consumer - at least not as a general concept.
Look no further to the extent that Google invests in the Chrome browser for proof of the importance. The Google campus' nickname here in the Valley has evolved from "Google-plex" to "Evil-plex" because of the common perception of nefarious designs behind Google's endeavors to gather, store and mine gobs of information about the data usage of its customers, as particularly exemplified by the usage of Chrome.
So big shock that Microsoft, chief promoter of the "adopt don't innovate" strategy of competition would be endeavoring to drive Internet Explorer down the same path as Chrome and be very concerned with its brand image (adoption of the browser is critical to Microsoft's success here). But, to paraphrase Shakespeare from Romeo & Juliet, "Garbage by any other name would smell as foul" - in my humble opinion, changing the name of Microsoft's browser will not address their problem. Microsoft's image is the problem. Granted, the legacy of IE's lack of support for industry standards, its bugginess, its reported and purported security flaws, its poor performance all provide a difficult legacy to above which the product must rise. But even overcoming all that, the legacy of IE being Microsoft's browser is really the biggest branding, or marketing, obstacle.
Removing Balmer was a step toward addressing that issue, but let me be clear: changing the name of their Browser (or Windows Mobile or Microsoft Live or any other under-performing product) is like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Microsoft's brand woes are far more systemic: they originate with the corporate brand.
In general, Microsoft continues to battle the public's perception that they are behind on the innovation curve. Unable to capitalize on their XBox success completely, continuing to be pummeled by Steve Jobs from beyond the grave for being a colorless and non-innovative company without any innovation, plagued by continued reports of flawed security in their platforms that continue to be a key corner-stone of the planet's computing infra-structure, Microsoft appears to have no greater a handle on marketing than they do on how to innovate. My forte is in developing products, not in marketing them, so perhaps I am not the most qualified analyst for this conundrum. Truth be told, as a former employee of Microsoft, some would argue I have a bias that obscures the truth from my analysis - or, perhaps, it illuminates that truth. As a product guy, I'd council trimming IE down and focusing on both solidity and performance; perhaps taking advantages offered by being inherently cloud connected (connection to a Microsoft Live account to offer storage of "favorites" or web clips (a la Evernote); making a crushing performance and interface victory available on the desktop, the mobile, the gaming (and other) platforms that is capable of integrating with other apps (and perhaps integrating a 2nd screen interface with dedicated devices. But most importantly, Microsoft needs to remove the impediment of the Microsoft brand by upgrading the market's perception of the company as one lacking in innovation, creativity and drive. Oh yeah, and integrity: Microsoft like's to thank God that Google is now the inherent evil on the planet under the mistaken impression that supplanting them as the top-dog of evil has wiped their slate clean. Yet, folks don't seem to believe that Microsoft is any less evil...just that there is a new, large, powerful and cash rich purveyor of evil in competition. Microsoft needs to address that if they want to transform people's perception of Internet Explorer.