News & Analysis

Internet Explorer Laid to Rest – But, Wasn’t It Dead Years Ago?

Trust social media to respond emotionally to the news of a death. The same held true for the Internet Explorer, though Microsoft's celebrated browser had lost our trust ages ago

It’s indeed the end of an era. And more than 90% of all social media users bid an emotional goodbye to Microsoft’s iconic Internet Explorer, which went into oblivion today. However, as is often the case with social media responses, this one too was over-the-top, given that the IE was rendered redundant in the world of Chrome, Firefox and a host of other browsers. 

What’s more the move wasn’t sudden as Microsoft had removed Microsoft 364 apps’ support for the web browser, which along with Netscape Navigator, ruled the roost in the 1990s. The IE debuted in 1995, a year after Netscape brought the Navigator in what is known as the second wave of browsers that came after the WorldWideWeb and Mosaic. 


The Web Browser journey

Microsoft gained pole position amongst browsers by bundling the Internet Explorer as freeware  with its Windows operating system. Its market share stood at 95% in the 2000s, which is also why the world sat up and took notice of possible antitrust issues. 

Apple launched its own Safari in 2003, closely followed by Mozilla – originally launched by the same folks behind Netscape as a Foundation – brought Firefox into the fray a year later. And Open Source became the buzzword. It took another five years before Google arrived with Chrome and that virtually ended the hegemony of the Internet Explorer. 

Today, Chrome boasts of a market share in excess of 70%, followed by Microsoft Edge with 12% and Firefox with 5.5%, which means that Internet Explorer has been on life support since the past decade and half. If Microsoft waited all this while to pull the plug, the question that need to be asked is, “Haven’t you heard of euthanasia?”


IE is Dead, Long Live the IE

In fact, Microsoft Edge GM Sean Lyndersay had a blog post that wrote the Internet Explorer’s  obituary last May. “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. Microsoft Edge has Internet Explorer mode (“IE mode”) built-in, so you can access those legacy Internet Explorer-based websites and applications straight from Microsoft Edge.” 

If you read that carefully, you might find another reason for trashing all those emotional social messages. Yes! The Internet Explorer is not dead. It lives on in the Microsoft Edge as a special mode for those who want an outlet for their nostalgia. The Edge, a faster Chromium-based browser, would allow users to access websites and applications supported by the IE. 


Hardly a story worth remembering

Having covered the nostalgia bit, let’s look at the IE history itself. Since the late 2000s, the browser has served the meme industry more than the browsing experience. When the world announced Open Source, Microsoft had all but put the Internet Explorer on life support. And when the Microsoft Edge arrived, IE was formally declared dead. 

In fact, laptops that came with the IE preloaded only served as a medium for users to download other browsers such as Chrome or Firefox. Even Microsoft accepted the new reality. In 2012, they came up with a campaign titled “The Browser You Loved to Hate” where they said that all the older versions were only good enough to download a new browser. 

The writing was on the wall. The web browser that ruled the roost for most of the latter half of the 1990s and early 2000s on the back of a $100 million dollar annual investment, had not just failed but had done so with a big bang. 

And the reasons weren’t far to see. Newer players fared well due to features such as the incognito mode (of Chrome) and high on security features (Firefox). Then came the mobile browsing trend, which saw it overtaking desktop browsing for the first time in 2016. With Chrome and Safari dominating the Android and iOS devices, Microsoft lost big time. 

Which proves yet again that the Internet Explorer had indeed breathed its last some years ago. It is just that Microsoft made it a solemn occasion, possibly to wipe away memories of a browser that was slow, labored and totally out of depth before its open source counterparts. Which is why the IE epitaph could well be, “The Browser That Helped Download Other Browsers”. 

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