Today, finally, Microsoft is officially ending support for Internet Explorer. Goodbye and good riddance to the most annoying web browser of all.
In 1993, when I wrote the first story about this cutting edge thing called the WEB, I knew it would be huge. It’s more than Bill Gates thought at the time. At the 1994 Comdex, Gates said, “I see little commercial potential for the Internet over the next 10 years.
Well, he ended up being right. But neither he nor Microsoft were the first to launch a web browser. Far from there!
The first popular graphical web browser came from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His name was Mosaic. It was created by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, but although it’s the one everyone remembers, it wasn’t the first graphical web browser. That honor goes to ViolaWWW, a Unix browser, while Cello was Windows’ first graphical web browser.
Mosaic, however, was the first browser to let you see images in pages. It changed the situation. Earlier browsers could only display images as separate files. It wasn’t a contest: Mosaic won the first and oldest browser war.
A day late and a dollar short
In 1995, Gates realized that Microsoft needed something to offer all users who desperately wanted a web browser. In May 1995, Gates began saying things like “the Internet is the most important development since the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981” and comparing it to a tidal wave.
Tidal wave or not, Microsoft still wasn’t ready. Its quick response was to adopt Spyglass, a commercial version of the popular Mosaic web browser. It was the basis of Internet Explorer (IE) 1, which debuted in August 1995, as part of Microsoft Plus for Windows 95, a Windows software add-on.
IE 1 was a flop. It also created bad blood with Spyglass, which had been promised a percentage of Microsoft’s profits on IE. But Microsoft started bundling IE with Windows – and therefore made no profit. Microsoft would eventually settle with Spyglass for $8 million in 1997.
This Spyglass/Mosaic codebase will remain in IE until IE7 is released. The “About” window on IE1 through IE6 contained the text “Distributed under a license agreement with Spyglass, Inc.” Some claim that Microsoft innovated with IE. This was not the case.
At the same time, Andreessen took the Mosaic code and turned it into the first successful web browser, Netscape. Andreessen boasted that Netscape would “reduce Windows to a set of badly debugged device drivers”.
Netscape in the line of sight
Microsoft took the threat seriously. Netscape CEO James Barksdale would later testify that at a meeting in June 1995, Microsoft proposed that the two companies split the browser market, with Internet Explorer being the only Windows browser. If Netscape didn’t comply, Microsoft would crush it.
“I had never been in a meeting in my 33-year business career where a competitor so blatantly implied that we should either stop competing with them or the competitor would would kill,” Barksdale said during the Justice Department’s 2001 antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.
But the real reason we’re only saying goodbye to IE today, long after Netscape made history, is that Microsoft exploited its illegal PC/Windows monopoly to block Netscape from computers. Microsoft’s heavily armed PC vendors are installing the new operating system and its browser on all their PCs. The goal wasn’t so much to kill off other PC operating system vendors; there was no real OS competition in the mid-90s. The goal was to destroy Netscape.
The courts agreed. The DoJ won in its lawsuit against Microsoft because the company’s monopoly on PCs prevented Netscape from competing with IE. Unfortunately, the government slapped Microsoft’s fingers rather than break it up into separate companies or open up its code. And Netscape is dead, as Microsoft threatened in 1995.
That’s how many of you grew up with IE as the browser you knew and loved. You didn’t know any better.
Not with a bang but a moan
Microsoft stopped innovating with IE, especially after releasing IE6 with Windows XP in 2001. Why bother? Users weren’t going anywhere. They didn’t really have an alternative. In the mid-2000s, IE’s market share was regularly over 90%.
But eventually Firefox, from Netscape’s old code, became a viable alternative around 2005. The real end of IE, however, began when Google decided to create a modern, fast and efficient web browser, Chrome, by 2008.
Microsoft never caught up. Today, Microsoft’s modern browser, Edge, is based on Chromium, the open-source codebase for Chrome. Indeed, with the exception of Firefox, all of today’s major Windows web browsers are based on Chromium. Edge offers a feature called IE Mode, which uses the Chromium engine for modern websites and IE11’s Trident MSHTML engine for legacy sites designed to work with Internet Explorer.
IE itself? He was left to die of neglect. Despite this, people still use IE today, God help them! The US Federal Government’s Digital Analytics Program (DAP) reports an average of 300,000 IE site visits to government sites in the past 7 days.
Although support for IE11 on Windows 10 ends on June 15, Microsoft isn’t just killing it outright. No, the IE11 desktop client on Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 (and even Windows 10 Enterprise, version 20H2), with extended security updates, will roll out.
Also, IE mode in Microsoft Edge will still be supported until at least 2029. So yes, those miserable IE-only websites and apps will still work for years to come. This means you don’t want to uninstall IE yourself. Edge will always use this feature when it comes up against an antiquated website. Microsoft also said that IE desktop apps will be gradually redirected to Microsoft Edge for the time being.
When will IE really be buried? We do not know. Microsoft does not say so. One day, however, you will get a Windows update that will erase IE once and for all.
I can not wait !
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