The most annoying web browser in history, Internet Explorer, has today seen its last day of support from Microsoft.
Way back in 1994, Bill Gates had said that he foresaw little commercial potential for the Internet for the following 10 years. I had been bitten myself by the bug while studying and working in the USA earlier in 1991, a time of dial-up modems, AOL reigning supreme as an email box provider, and when Netscape was still a sexy web browser to use (still have its installation floppies buried someplace).
But, oops, how wrong was Gates when he blurted that out at Comdex.
He and Microsoft realised how wrong that stance was eventually, but they weren’t the first to launch a web browser for fledgling web surfers.
The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign created the first widely used graphical web browser, Mosaic. It was developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, although despite being the most well-known, it wasn’t the first graphical web browser. ViolaWWW, a Unix browser, was the first Windows graphical web browser, whereas Cello was the first Windows graphical web browser.
Mosaic, on the other hand, was the first browser to allow users to see graphics within website pages. That was a game-changer, to say the least. Previously, pictures could only be shown as independent files in browsers. The first and earliest browser battle was a foregone conclusion: Mosaic was victorious.
When then in 1995, Gates believed that Microsoft needed to provide something to all of the people who were clamouring for a web browser. Gates began stating things like, “The Internet is the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981,” and compared it to a tidal wave in May 1995.
Whether it was a tidal wave or not, Microsoft was still unprepared. Spyglass, a commercial version of the popular Mosaic web browser, was chosen as a rapid repair. Internet Explorer (IE) 1 was released in August 1995 as part of Microsoft Plus for Windows 95, a Windows software add-on bundle.
The first version of Internet Explorer was a failure. It also strained relations with Spyglass, which had been promised a cut of Microsoft’s IE earnings. However, Microsoft began bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, resulting in a loss of revenue. In 1997, Microsoft reached a $8 million settlement with Spyglass.
This Spyglass/Mosaic codebase would remain in Internet Explorer until the release of IE7. “Distributed via a licence arrangement with Spyglass, Inc.” was written in the “About” pane of Internet Explorer 1 through 6. Microsoft is said to have innovated with Internet Explorer. It didn’t work out.
Simultaneously, Andreessen took the Mosaic code and converted it into Netscape, the first widely used web browser. Netscape will “convert Windows to a set of badly debugged device drivers,” Andreessen promised.
The threat was taken seriously by Microsoft. In a June 1995 meeting, Microsoft offered that the two firms split the browser industry, with Internet Explorer becoming the exclusive Windows browser, according to Netscape CEO James Barksdale. Microsoft would smash Netscape if it did not cooperate.
During the US Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in 2001, Barksdale claimed, “I had never been in a meeting in my 33-year business history where a rival had so openly implied that we should either cease competing with it or the competition would destroy us.”
But the true reason we’re saying goodbye to IE now, long after Netscape has vanished, is because Microsoft used their unlawful PC/Windows monopoly to prevent Netscape from being installed on PCs. Microsoft coerced PC manufacturers into installing the new operating system and browser on all of their machines. There was no significant OS rivalry in the mid-’90s, so the objective wasn’t so much to kill out other PC operating system makers. The idea was to completely demolish Netscape.
The courts were in agreement. The US Department of Justice won its lawsuit against Microsoft because the company’s PC monopoly prevented Netscape from competing with Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, instead of splitting Microsoft up into independent firms or open-sourcing its code, the government handed it a smack on the wrist. And, as Microsoft had threatened back in 1995, Netscape perished.
As a result, many of you grew up with Internet Explorer as your default browser. You had no idea what could have been the alternatives.
After the introduction of IE6 with Windows XP in 2001, Microsoft ceased developing with the browser. What was the point? There was no way for users to leave. They didn’t have any other options. By the mid-2000s, Internet Explorer had a market share of more than 90%.
However, in 2005, Firefox, which was based on Netscape’s outdated coding, became a viable alternative. The ultimate death of IE came in 2008, when Google chose to create Chrome, a contemporary, fast, and efficient web browser (yippee!!).
Microsoft never managed to catch up. Today, Microsoft’s contemporary browser, Edge, is built on the open-source Chromium code base. Except for Firefox, all of the current main Windows web browsers are based on Chromium. Edge has a feature called IE mode that uses the Chromium engine for current websites and the Trident MSHTML engine from Internet Explorer 11 for legacy sites.
And IE? Simply abandoned and let to rot. Despite this, many continue to use Internet Explorer today, … mehh, Lord help them! The Digital Analytics Program (DAP) of the US federal government reports an average of 300,000 Internet Explorer site visits to government websites in the last seven days.
Despite support for Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 10 stopping on June 15th, Microsoft isn’t completely abandoning the browser. In fact, with extended security updates, the IE11 desktop client on Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 (and even Windows 10 Enterprise, version 20H2) will continue to plough on.
Furthermore, Microsoft Edge’s IE mode will be supported until at least 2029. And yes, those dreadful IE-only websites and apps will continue to function for several more years still. So don’t go about removing Internet Explorer yourselves. When Edge comes across an old legacy webpage, it will still use that feature. For the time being, Microsoft has said that IE desktop apps would be gradually shifted to Microsoft Edge.
When will IE be laid to rest for good? We have no idea. Microsoft has been tight-lipped about the situation. Someday, though, you’ll get a Windows Update that completely removes Internet Explorer.
Many, like myself, will earnestly await that day!