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R.I.P. Internet Explorer: The Rise and Fall of a Browsing Empire

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R.I.P. Internet Explorer: The Rise and Fall of a Browsing Empire

All good things come to an end. And even though it’s been a while since Internet Explorer could be called a good thing, it’s worth looking back at the highs and lows of browser’s history.

In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft is indeed veering away from the Internet Explorer browser in its new forthcoming operating system Windows 10 in favor of a renamed and reimagined browser that is hoped to shake off the stigma that the browser has carried for a long time.

Reports that Microsoft is “killing” Internet Explorer may have been somewhat premature though as Business Insider reports that IE will still exist in Windows 10 but not as the primary browser. Rather, the company is focusing on “Project Spartan”, its new work-in-progress browser that will be front and center for the Windows 10.

IE may still be available for enterprise customers but in the grand scheme of things, the browser’s heyday is well and truly over as Microsoft moves on to greener browser pastures.

For 20 years, Internet Explorer has existed and at one time reigned supreme for internet users, accounting for a sizeable chunk of browser market share in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, so what how did it go from hero to zero?

The early days of an internet icon

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Derived from Mosaic, Internet Explorer 1.0 was released in August 1995 with the early versions of the browser being synonymous with Windows 95. However in the early days, getting your hands on IE meant paying for it. That’s right—at that point you paid for the browser, as alien and bizarre as that seems now.

Internet Explorer’s biggest competitor throughout the late-1990s was Netscape Navigator, another browser based on Mosaic. Navigator was, at one point, the most used internet browser and could be used across each of the operating systems. In what is known as the “first browser war”, IE and Netscape Navigator fought for control of the market share as internet usage exploded across the country for the first time.

In 1996, Internet Explorer 3.0 emerged and this time, it was free and came with its now unmistakable ‘e’ logo. Version 4.0 in 1997 came bundled with Windows and this in many ways led to the browser becoming the default program for many internet users for the next couple of years, though not without its hiccups. Microsoft bundling the browser with the OS led to an anti-trust and monopoly case with the US government. It settled after three years of litigation.

However, bundling IE 3.0 in Windows 97 is also what tipped the tides of the war and led to the eventual downfall of Netscape Navigator. While the lifeline of Netscape would eventually come back to haunt it in the form of Firefox, Microsoft enjoyed a solid seven or eight years of web browser dominance through the late 1990s and early 2000s, which just so happened to be a significant time in the widespread adoption of internet usage.

By the time versions 5.0 and 6.0 came around, Internet Explorer had really established its identity and look. However, the cracks also began to emerge that would later be leveraged against it. Version 6.0 was plagued with security issues with a CERT advisory, for example, warning users to stay away from the browser as it could make you and your data vulnerable through the Scob or Download.Ject keyloggers, which could be used to steal passwords and other sensitive data.

It wasn’t a good look for IE and while Microsoft attempted to patch the vulnerability, it wasn’t easy and took several attempts to eventually plug the leak. It was only a matter of time before a faster and more secure browser was going to come along.

Falling behind to competition

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By 2006, Mozilla’s Firefox had truly risen to the occasion and was a formidable competitor to the long standing IE and it wouldn’t be long before Google and Apple would throw its hats into the ring. Apple launched its own browser, Safari, in 2003 to fill the void that Navigator left, while Google entered the browser game in 2008 with its fast and light Chrome browser.

With competition from every direction, Internet Explorer has struggled as a result. Version 7.0, which was five years in the making, was as plain as it could be. It wasn’t necessarily a very bad product, but in the face of the encroaching Firefox, it brought nothing new to the table and began to develop a bad reputation in terms of both security and browsing speed.

With new editions of Windows came new versions of Internet Explorer. Version 8.0 in 2009 bolstered its security while version 9.0 opted for a fresher design and simpler interface, but it was never enough to win back the small, but vocal mass of disaffected users. By 2011, Internet Explorer had quite clearly lost the advantage it once had. Although it still enjoyed a significant user base thanks to its packaging in Windows, it was losing the browser war despite its best efforts to shake off the negative reputation. It was only a matter of time before professional organizations like school and companies would default to Firefox for “security reasons”.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve had some new versions of Internet Explorer but they have failed to turn the tides and the flagship browser from Microsoft remains the constant butt of online jokes, known as the browser you only use to download a different browser.

Nowadays, Internet Explorer continues to lose ground on market share with Chrome, Safari, and Firefox constantly closing the gap and is still subject to new security vulnerabilities that keep popping up. According to StatCounter, from just January 2011 to January 2014 Internet Explorer lost nearly 40% of its user base to Chrome and Firefox. Today, Google Chrome has become the clear frontrunner, pushing both Firefox and IE to the lowest user bases either have ever had.

When Windows 10 drops later this year, Internet Explorer will still exist but will be unrecognizable next to the still-mysterious Project Spartan.

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Microsoft  is developing a new rendering engine called Edge but will be used solely with Project Spartan, or whatever name the browser takes, and will be omitted from Internet Explorer 11, which will use the same old Trident engine, and it’s for that reason that one can’t imagine that IE will ever make a triumphant return.

“Internet Explorer 11 will remain fundamentally unchanged from Windows 8.1, continuing to host the legacy engine exclusively,” said Project Spartan’s project manager Kyle Pflug.

Internet Explorer is likely doomed to the history books once Windows 10 is released and Microsoft begins rolling out its new flagship browser, whatever shape it takes. Whether or not Project Spartan can pull back market share from Firefox and Chrome remains to be seen. In the meantime, we’ll just sit back and remember the glory days of Internet Explorer’s past.

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