The web browser that set up Chrome and Edge for success is gone
The end of an era is upon us, as Internet Explorer is finally retired after more than 26 years of service, both good and bad.
Announced last year, the official retirement of Internet Explorer on June 15, 2022, comes 26 years and 10 months (9,801 days, to be exact) after its August 15, 1995 release date, back when the public-facing Internet was in its infancy.
From almost the very beginning, it courted controversy. After the launch of Windows 95 (also in August 1995), Microsoft Internet Explorer started being bundled with OEM versions of the operating system.
This meant that if you bought a new computer at a time when everyone was buying a new computer, you almost certainly booted it up with a copy of Microsoft’s web browser already installed and set as the default program for interacting with the Internet.
This, of course, is what got Microsoft into trouble with the US government, who lodged a successful antitrust action against the company (United States v. Microsoft) that ultimately forced Microsoft to allow OEMs to install the web browsers of their choice on the machines they shipped.
That strategy was nonetheless successful, and by the turn of the millennium, if you weren’t using some legacy intermediary like AOL, Internet Explorer was how almost everyone else entered the internet, and it was unfathomable that this could change.
Microsoft Internet Explorer loses its edge
Internet Explorer 6 was released in 2001 around the time of the final settlement of Microsoft’s antitrust case, and it didn’t receive a major feature updated for several critical years thereafter.
Internet Explorer was by then the dominant web browser the world over, so Microsoft probably also thought it could rest on its laurels. This proved consequential for two reasons: ActiveX Controls and Mozilla Firefox.
ActiveX Controls was a feature of Internet Explorer since 1996 that allowed web pages to package executable code into its HTML that would run on client-side machines (i.e., your computer) without any user intervention. While this arguably made the internet a richer experience that simple web pages could produce, it also became a security nightmare almost immediately, and it was one that Internet Explorer could never shake off.
Then in 2004, Mozilla Firefox, one of the first major open-source projects on the internet, was released, offering tabbed web browsing, extension support and no ActiveX Control vulnerabilities. As users flocked to Firefox, and a few years later to Google Chrome, Internet Explorer offered little in the way of updates until 2007, with Internet Explorer 7, but by then it was pretty much over. Firefox, and then Chrome, would eventually come to overshadow Internet Explorer and drive down its once dominant market share to once unthinkable lows from which it never recovered.
Microsoft Internet Explorer slouches towards retirement
By 2015, when Microsoft released the new Microsoft Edge browser, it was all but begging Internet Explorer customers to switch, especially those still running Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6, which were mostly businesses and institutions, despite it being riddled with unpatchable vulnerabilities in the evolving, modern Internet.
Finally, after announcing it was axing Windows XP support to get hold-outs to switch, Microsoft announced last year that it was pulling the plug on Internet Explorer as well.
That time has finally come. As of now, Internet Explorer – that once all-powerful ruler of the internet – is no longer being supported on most operating systems, with very limited extended security updates for certain enterprise services with extended support agreements Microsoft is contractually obligated to honor. But even those will be done by the end of 2023.
It’s done. It’s over. You don’t have to go to Edge, but you stay with Internet Explorer at your own risk.
It’s wasn’t all bad times, though
Internet Explorer deserved the reputation it earned for security vulnerabilities. You could click on a URL in a Something Awful forum in the early 2000s and have your computer completely bricked, or worse, by someone who just delighted in watching the world’s computers burn.
Next to Adobe Flash, there is nothing on your computer that you should avoid more than Internet Explorer. It was unnecessarily careless with security, something that internet security professionals were screaming about into the Redmond Void before internet security professionals was even really a thing.
Microsoft had to have known better, but they pressed ahead with a web browser that literally let someone else install and run a program on your computer with just a careless click on a webpage and forced hundreds of millions of people to use it. There’s no getting around the fact that it was an atrocity of a program, and even Microsoft is glad to be rid of it.
But, for a time, Internet Explorer was all there really was, and coming from the original Walled Garden of the internet, America Online, using Internet Explorer was like moving out of my parent’s house for the first time when I went away for college.
There was an enormous amount of danger I could encounter and a whole lot of trouble that I narrowly avoided, and even fell into, because I was stupid. But it was also the best time of many of our lives, when life is full of possibilities and we thought ourselves immortal.
Internet Explorer was where many of us first found out that we could find anything, and I do mean anything, on the internet. From Ebaums World to CD-Key cracking sites to the entire wide world of emulators. Are game emulators illegal? We sure as hell didn’t care. The entirety of the Internet was open to me in all its full-but-often-disgusting glory.
There are things I did with Internet Explorer that I would blanche at if I saw someone doing it today with even a secure browser like Edge, Chrome or Safari. We were all innocents abroad on the internet back then and Internet Explorer was built for a time when the internet was truly a frontier.
That time has passed, and so too must Internet Explorer. It was the digital version of riding down I-35 in Texas with my friends in the bed of someone’s pickup truck to go to wherever underage college kids went to drink beer. I’m grateful I made it through both experiences safely. I would never do either again, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a hell of a time.
TechRadar sounds off on Internet Explorer
Everyone here at TechRadar has an opinion on Internet Explorer, whether it was their first browser in the 1990s or the browser that turned entire family computers into digital petri dishes for malware. I asked the team what they thought about Internet Explorer finally being retired, and for better or worse, it stirred up lot of feelings in just about everyone.
“I remember getting my internet crash course from my techie dad in the late ’90s/early 2000s and one of the earliest things I did outside of his guidance was to search for games,” said Josephine Watson, TechRadar’s deputy managing editor. “Bejewelled, Neopets, Miniclip and Runescape all became my best friends in the absence of real ones.”
As fond as that memory was though, it wasn’t all Neopets and sunshine. “SO. MANY. VIRUSES.” Watson added. “Every other site would somehow download a trojan onto my computer. Or I did. I can’t remember.”
“I can’t remember too many problems, but then again, they’d just invented the internet when I started and being able to download an image, or an MP3 at 4kb/s, was just a dream to me,” said TechRadar’s global editor in Chief, Gareth Beavis.
“I still have a fond nostalgia for the grey icons and blocky refresh button, although when I upgraded to Firefox, I felt like I was sneaking out of school and into a rebellious zone,” Beavis added.
Internet Explorer also has its defenders, like Désiré Athow, managing editor of TechRadar Pro.
“It was the rabbit hole that allowed me to explore a world that was hitherto unknown to me, learn more about the ‘information superhighway’ and hang out with friends at cybercafés where we rented out computers by the hour,” Athow said.
“Internet Explorer’s flaws shouldn’t hide the fact that it was a great springboard for newcomers to the web,” he added. “It’s a shame that Microsoft didn’t embrace it the way Google did with Chrome.”
“I was in college when the University of Illinois released NCSA Mosaic, an enormous pivot from the Archie and Veronica services available at the school library (look it up, kids!) and the Fetch app we had all been using to pirate software off the internet,” confesses Jeremy Kaplan, TechRadar’s content director. “Then my mom bought a new computer, and I convinced her she had to buy this new program called Netscape Navigator. A boxed version, for $49.99 … it was the only way to get such a large program at the time.”
“When Internet Explorer came out,” Kaplan said, “it seemed very much a me-too app. Microsoft steadily honed it, and improved it, and weirdly started coming up with ‘extensions to the Internet’ to ensure people used their browser.
“On the one hand, it made sense to just offer that app with a computer; after all, we had to buy apps before that” Kaplan added. “But it felt weird, and really bifurcated the market. Lawsuits later, IE still felt a little tainted, a little corporate, a little me too. It had no Edge. I stayed with Netscape, picked up Chrome when Google released it, and never looked back.”
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