How to kill a browser

As a general rule, I have little use for Internet Explorer. Not just because I use a Mac, but because it’s not a particularly good browser. The Windows version, for instance, ships unable to view many foreign-language web sites correctly (and even after you turn on support for that language, it may not be 100%), and still doesn’t support transparency in PNG images (my site logo does not have a grayish box around it).

Back in the days when I ran several hundred Solaris servers for Microsoft, my only real use for IE was filing expense reports. Maybe the occasional internal web site that used ActiveX controllers or NTLM authentication, but that was pretty rare.

On my Mac, I hadn’t fired it up in months. All I’d done recently was copy it to my teacher’s Mac, after one of her “helpful” support techs had deliberately removed it from her hard drive (“you don’t need that any more”). Good thing, too, since we discovered that it rendered all of the Japanese text on her Tamura Ryuichi site incorrectly.

[For future reference, the problem was that the text-encoding Content-Type META tag had not been placed immediately following the HEAD tag; the designer had placed it after the TITLE tag, indented with whitespace. Most browsers saw it and correctly rendered the page, but IE for Mac ignored it. Placing it immediately after the HEAD tag fixed the problem. More on Unicode and using it in browsers here.]

This week I found myself with an understandable but annoying need for Mac IE: getting my alumni discount at the Microsoft online company store. Forget buying stuff, you can’t even browse the product categories in Safari or Firefox.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. As in, “I’m sorry, I refuse to run on this machine, and here’s a cryptic dialog box explaining why”. Microsoft’s knowledge base article on this subject says “try repairing permissions, rebooting, or reinstalling the operating system”. The first two did nothing, the third was out of the question.

You can’t download Mac IE from Microsoft any more, so I couldn’t reinstall it. I got a fresh copy from a co-worker’s machine, and that didn’t work either. The error dialog referred to components of CarbonLib, specifically JNIlib, so I did some searching.

Java. Duh. A while back I followed instructions similar to these to switch the default version of Java on my machine from 1.4.2 to 1.5; Apple supplies both, and gives you a tool to tell GUI Java apps which one to use (Java, buried in /Applications/Utilities/Java/J2SE 5.0), but there’s no supported way to set the default for apps launched from the command line. I’ve now forgotten why I needed it at the time…

Switching the symlinks back to 1.4.2 and rebooting fixed IE. This suggests that IE may die for good when Apple decides that 1.5 should become the system default.