Microsoft is bidding goodbye to Internet Explorer after 26 long years. For a web browser that was once market leader and then one of the holy trinity along with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, it might seem like the end of an era. But the fact is that Internet Explorer’s time had come long ago.
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Earlier this week, the Redmond-headquartered Microsoft announced that it will end support for Internet Explorer 11 on June 15, 2022. In a blog post announcing the end of journey for Internet Explorer, Microsoft said the Internet Explorer is less secure than modern browsers and most importantly, does not deliver an up-to-date browsing experience. Instead, the company wants users to use Edge, a modern web browser based on Google’s open source Chromium code, and works well on both desktop and mobile.
“We are announcing that the future of Internet Explorer on Windows 10 is in Microsoft Edge,” said Sean Lyndersay, Microsoft’s program manager for Edge. “Not only is Microsoft Edge a faster, more secure and more modern browsing experience than Internet Explorer, but it is also able to address a key concern: compatibility for older, legacy websites and applications.”
Explained: The rise and fall of Internet Explorer
It was Microsoft founder and then CEO Bill Gates’ idea to dominate browser market along with the PC segment. In the 1990s, the world was seeing a growing craze for the Internet among the young and affluent with the web browser as the gateway to the World Wide Web.
The development of the Internet Explorer project was started a year ago before Microsoft rolled out the web browser in 1995. Thomas Reardon, who is known for launching the Internet Explorer browser, used source code from Spyglass Mosaic, a licensed version of NCSA’s Mosaic browser. It is said that a team of six people worked on Internet Explorer 1.0. Reardon was 24 when he started working on Internet Explorer.
The Internet Explorer (IE) made its debut in 1995 as part of Windows 95 operating system and with time grew on users. It was certainly not an instant hit given the dominance of the then-popular Netscape browser with a 90 per cent market share.
The first version of Internet Explorer lacked many features and by the time version 3.0 was released in 1996, the popularity of Microsoft’s flagship browser started to skyrocket. This was also the time Microsoft moved away from the Spyglass source code, which later resulted in a lawsuit for which the company had to pay $8 million.
The launch of IE 4.0 changed the tide for Microsoft and its ambitions to rule the web browsing market. IE 4.0 was bundled free of charge with the Windows operating system, a move that proved pivotal for the tech giant. The arrival of free to use IE 5.0 in 1999 with Windows 98 further helped the company to ease off market share from Netscape.
But the bundling of Internet Explorer for free with Windows operating system led to an antitrust trial that began in May 1998 and lasted until June 2001. Microsoft was accused of its monopolistic behaviour to control the market. In November 2001, Microsoft and DOJ finally reached a settlement wherein users would be given a choice to choose which web browser they wanted to use. By 2002, Internet Explorer was crushing the competition with 95 per cent market share.
While the Internet Explorer will always be credited for the way we use the web, its downfall is a case study in itself. Internet Explorer 6 was riddled with bugs and security issues making it very unpopular. By the time Microsoft released the Internet Explorer 7 in 2006, the market for web browsers started to look a lot different.
The debut of Firefox in 2004 and Google Chrome in 2008, along with the rise of mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS started to make the Internet Explorer less relevant in the world dominated by smartphones. Microsoft’s inability to have a dominant mobile operating system (although it did have Windows Phone, the mobile OS never able to get mass following), unlike Google and Apple, didn’t help Internet Explorer in face of competition.
Over the years, the Internet Explorer has gone through several redesigns but interest in Microsoft’s web browser has only waned as more people turn to Google’s Chrome, which dominates both desktop and mobile platforms. Even to date, Internet Explorer doesn’t support extensions and there is no way to sync with other devices by default — something that gives the Chrome browser and Firefox an edge.
Internet Explorer’s dismissal market share of 1.7 per cent (as of March 2021) shows Microsoft is right in its decision to pull the plug on its once popular web browser. Internet Explorer 11, the latest big update to Microsoft’s once dominant web browser, was released in 2013 alongside Windows 8. However, development ceased in 2016 when all the resources were shifted to Microsoft Edge, a Google Chrome rival released in the previous year.
Microsoft Edge is the future
While the news of the demise of Internet Explorer may come as a shock to many, Microsoft has been slowly making its popular web browser redundant. Microsoft ended support for Internet Explorer 11 for Microsoft Teams web app last year, and its 365 apps will stop working on the aging browser later this year.
Despite putting all its energy on establishing Edge as the modern day web browser, Microsoft has continued to ship the once most-used web browser with Windows. In fact, Internet Explorer, even today, comes pre-installed on Windows PCs alongside its Edge browser. Microsoft isn’t saying when it will stop bundling Internet Explorer with Windows PCs.
For now, though, the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) of Windows 10 will still include Internet Explorer. Simply put, Internet Explorer is dead for all consumer versions of Windows 10. That said, the Chromium-based Edge browser has Internet Explorer (IE) Mode, which Microsoft says is designed to provide compatibility for legacy IE-based sites and apps.