The browser you choose these days has become a bit of a fashion accessory, and poor old Internet Explorer has become like the manky brown corduroys of the net. Sure, IE users area bit old-fashioned, but are they actually dumber than folks surfing on Opera or Chrome? Well, yes actually.
That’s the controversial result from a study (PDF) by Canadian brain-wranglers AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting. It turns out Opera users are the smartest surfers out, Chrome users are marginally smarter than Firefox users, and that you can apparently boost your IQ by a whopping 40 points just by installing Chrome Frame into IE6. Although from the numbers it looks like IE6 users would probably struggle to do up the buttons on a shirt, let alone install new software.
These results should probably be taken with a humungous pinch of salt, but they do provide a great opportunity for smugness if your choice of software marks you as one of the master race.
But what does it mean?
Well, the point of the study wasn’t really to make people feel bad about their choice of browser, it was the look at the link between resistance to change/upgrades and IQ. Browser choice was used as a proxy for that resistance to change, because people using Windows that resist change are more likely to be using the default browser, and more likely to be using an old version of it.
That’s actually an important insight. What it tells us is that defaults matter. A significant percentage of the user base won’t be changing the defaults regardless of quality. So if you care about user experience, you need to get them right. It also suggests that OSes that ship without a good set of default applications are causing a lot of stress for some users. A lot of users would be more happy to be given a Linux distro that bundled a good set of default apps for a wide range of uses (browser, word processor, IM client, email, music player) and that the absence of these apps on commercial OSes like Windows and OS X is probably a bit of a hassle for them. Moreover, these are not users that Linux traditionally targets itself at. Traditionally Linux efforts have either tried to go for (presumably) high IQ power users, or offered very minimalist experiences (eg: Xandros, Linpus) for mainstream use. This study suggests that what they low-IQ end of the PC using population really want is a good set of default apps, preinstalled and with an automated security update system that they don’t have to get involved with.
Stupid people may be an easy target for ridicule, but their money is worth the same as anyone else’s, and they’ve got just as much right to drive a computer as the rest of us. And as a casual glance over a newspaper shows, there do seem to be an awful lot of them.