The Qhosts Trojan horse raises serious concerns, not about security but Microsofts Internet Explorer development strategy–or lack of it.
For anyone missing news of the Trojan horse, CNET News.com has a pretty good story, here, explaining the problem. In a nutshell: Hackers are exploiting an IE flaw that lets them plant a Trojan horse on Windows computers via pop-up ads generated in IE. Once planted, Qhosts changes the domain name service (DNS) servers that IE typically would use to resolve domain names. Presumably, the hackers DNS servers could send infected computers to fake Websites mimicking popular destinations. Once there, the users conceivably could give up passwords, credit card numbers or other confidential information.
Pop-up ads as a delivery mechanism for Trojan horses is a disturbing circumstance and, again, red flags the notion a Web browser should be an integral part of any operating system. But my concern with Qhosts isnt Microsoft security problems–no software vendor is immune to them–or Windows architecture.
Fundamentally, I see a different problem, and one I would encourage Microsoft to look at. The company has all but stopped development on IE, which is the dominant browser on Windows. In like manner, the company has abandoned IE development for the Mac. But, that doesnt mean Microsoft has stopped work on browsing technologies. On the contrary, Microsoft continues to advance the browsing capabilities of the MSN client. That is a product people pay for, I might add. IE is giveaway software.
While most other browsers offer pop-up blocking as standard fare, Microsoft is adding that feature to the next version of MSN rather than IE. Customers willing to pay a premium would receive the benefits of pop-up blocking while the larger number of IE users would not. Im not nitpicking here. I cant think of any customer reason why Microsoft shouldnt be looking to advance IEs features, particularly considering the browser's overwhelming market share.
Its not like browsing technology suddenly hit a wall and, so, there is no need to expand what customers could do on the Web with additional enhancements. Microsoft saw plenty of reasons to make IE better during the so-called browser wars with Netscape. By my recollection, Microsoft churned three IE versions in little more than 18 months to match and, in many ways, exceed Netscape at the height of the so-called browser wars.
That MSN is getting pop-up blocking, photo-sharing and other new capabilities–all built around a browser–shows that Microsoft recognizes there are more things people can do and would want to do on the Web. As long as theyre willing to pay for the capabilities. I might add that pop-up blocking as part of IE might have prevented the spread of Qhosts.
Microsoft built up huge IE share by a number of means–delivering good technology and integration into Windows, among others–so, the apparent abandoning the market doesnt make much sense to me. If for no other reason than improving overall Windows security, Microsoft would serve its customers best by putting more development effort into IE.
Making people wait more than two years for Longhorn, Windows XPs successor, may not be the best approach to improving IE in the best way for all parties–Microsoft and its customers. Microsoft has done a superb job developing a world-class browser. Why stop now? [Microsoft Monitor]