A micro(soft) history of Internet Explorer

Digital & Social | 3 minute read

The rumours are true. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will officially retire next year. The computing behemoth has revealed that it’s phasing out support for the browser before retiring it altogether on June 15, 2022.

To celebrate this momentous occasion in the annals of the world wide web, here’s a brief look at the incredible life and times of Internet Explorer.


The birth of a giant

The story begins back in the summer of 1994. Using licensed source code from an early browser called Mosaic (which let users display images and text on the same page), Microsoft set about building its own web browser to compete with the reigning champion, Netscape Navigator.

The result, Internet Explorer (IE), was launched in 1995 as an add-on to the Windows 95 operating system. It led to a long-running browser war between Netscape and Microsoft which saw them upgrade their browsers with new products and features to become the primary window to the web. For example, Netscape created JavaScript, which revolutionised website development, and Microsoft launched Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which are used to format webpages.

The competitive rivalry reached new heights in 1997 when Microsoft put a giant letter ‘e’ outside Netscape headquarters to promote the release of Internet Explorer 4.0. Netscape retaliated by putting their Mozilla dinosaur mascot on top of the ‘e’.


The evolution of Internet Explorer

Microsoft reached domain dominance in October 1997 when it started giving away Internet Explorer 4.0 for free with the Windows operating system. As a result, by late 1998, Internet Explorer was the world’s most popular web browser, and by 2004 its market share was 95%. In other words, for most people, Internet Explorer was the internet.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. In 1998, Microsoft was accused of becoming a monopoly by giving IE away for free with Windows. This led to a lengthy antitrust trial that resulted in a settlement in 2001 that meant Windows users could choose which web browser they wanted to use.

Netscape’s decision to open-source its codebase led to the creation of Firefox in 2002. This, along with the launch of Chrome, saw Internet Explorer’s market dominance begin to wane. In 2012, Chrome had become the most popular web browser and by 2019, IE’s market share was roughly 2%.


Living on the Edge

Although support for Internet Explorer will end in 2022, all is not lost if you’re wedded to the IE experience.

The reins are being passed to Microsoft Edge, which provides a faster, more secure browsing experience and has built-in legacy browser support for sites requiring Internet Explorer.

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