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Who Killed Internet Explorer?

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Who Killed Internet Explorer?

In the beginning, Netscape Navigator ruled the web.

If you were around for the beginning of the World Wide Web, you probably remember exploring early websites with that iconic old browser. Once the undisputed champion of surfing the web, Netscape Navigator grew in popularity when Netscape Communications began offering the software to download for free in the mid-90s, and provided floppy disks and later CDs of the browser for sale as well (remember those "getting started on the Internet" books that came with Netscape Navigator CDs?).

Throughout the 90s, Netscape Navigator was ubiquitous, the de facto way to access the web. But their reign didn't last long.

Microsoft was determined to take over the browser market with their Internet Explorer. But they were up against some stiff competition, so they needed to come up with aggressive tactics. What they did come up with was pretty ingenuous (though maybe not quite legal): they prepackaged Internet Explorer along with every Windows 95, and presented it to their customers as the only way to get online. In fact, even today, many people who aren't computer-savvy conflate Internet Explorer with the Internet itself.

And it worked: by early 2000s, Internet Explorer's market share was up to 95%. Microsoft was the undisputed winners of the browser wars.

But Microsoft's reign didn't last long, either. It wasn't long after that IE's market share started steadily declining, and they never again reached that peak of popularity they had around 2002.

What happened? How exactly did Microsoft lose the browser wars after their landslide victory over Netscape? Why did their users seem to turn away in droves as soon as alternatives appeared?

If you're one of those users who's said goodbye to IE for good, you know exactly why you made the switch. But there's a lot more the the story. Check out the graphic below to find out how Microsoft's Internet Explorer won the browser wars only to fumble soon after.


Who Killed Internet Explorer®? (Hint: Microsoft®)

In June 2014, Internet Explorer® (IE) held just 19% of the market share, across multiple versions of the browser. One year prior, it held 21.9%, and in June 2012, it held 30%. Let’s take a closer look at the rise and fall of Internet Explorer.

Massive Dominance in its Heydey

  • IE 1.0 was packaged with Windows 95® Plus Pack to compete with the success of the Netscape Navigator®
  • IE 2.0 was released three months later, in November 1995, and the first “browser wars” began.
  • Both Microsoft and Netscape released new versions rapidly over the next few years in competition.
    • Features took precedence over security fixes.
    • Users suffered because it meant unstable browsers.
  • IE 3.0 was released in 1996, it offered similar features as Netscape.
  • Netscape held 72% of the browser market in 1997.
  • In late 1997, Internet Explorer 4.0 was released.
    • Compared to Netscape Navigator 4.0, IE 4.0 was faster.
    • It also was more up-to-date with W3C standards.
  • Microsoft had a monopoly in the operating system marketplace, leveraging IE into dominance.
    • It was bundled with every copy of Windows, allowing Microsoft to gain more market share
  • Microsoft kept IE free, using revenue from Windows sales to improve development and marketing, to the point that it was so feature-rich there was no reason for users to download and install Netscape.
  • The U.S. government sued Microsoft for using its monopoly status to manipulate the market.
    • Netscape stopped charging for the browser and went open-source in 1998.
      • AOL acquired Netscape for $4.2 billion shortly after.
  • IE became the new dominant browser, with its market share reaching 96% during 2002.
    • This was more than Netscape had at its peak.

Massive Decline

  • Firstrelease alongside Windows XP in 2001, IE 6 was once the most popular browsers in the world.
    • Although it was widely used, PC World named IE 6 one of the 25 worst tech products of all time.
    • Support for this browser ended in April 2014, when support for XP was dropped.
  • IE 6 was never fully compliant with web standards.
  • Many bug fixes were overlooked.
    • The browser was so hated, campaigns were launched to get rid of it.
      • ie6death.com: A project from Postano® once showed a live countdown to the death of the browser.
        • As of August 2014, it reads, “IE 6 is dead.”
      • ie6nomore.com: Though not attached to a specific group of people, the website claims to be run by people who wanted to see IE 6 disappear, because it was hard for web developers to work with and it didn’t follow web standards.
        • It includes a code sample for developers to add to their own websites, to show support for the campaign and encourage website visitors to upgrade their browsers.
  • It took five years for IE 7 to debut. It hit the market in October 2006.
    • Firefox was born in November 2004.
      • It featured anti-phishing features, as well as an integrated pop-up blocker.
    • Microsoft did not keep up with the competition.
      • Did not include features users wanted, in order to be able to compete with browsers such as Mozilla Firefox® and Google Chrome®.
        • Tabbed browsing was not introduced until IE8, which debuted in March 2009, during the “browser wars.”
          • Firefox 0.9.5 introduced the tabbed browsing concept five years earlier.
        • Google Chrome debuted in September 2008, with the tabbed browsing feature.
  • Spoof advertisements poke fun at IE by saying it is “the perfect browser” for downloading Chrome.
  • Several memes make fun of the IE browser.
    • One in particular uses the “Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close” error message.
      • It shows multiple error windows and says, “Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to die.”
    • Others include:
      • Browser logos next to guns, making reference to loading times.
      • A “crying” IE logo next to text that reads “Forever Alone.”
  • In 2011, Microsoft launched their own campaign to kill IE6 - to push its worldwide usage down below 1%.
    • ie6countdown.com aims to encourage everyone to update to new versions of IE.
      • As of June 2014, Microsoft’s website has yet to accomplish this goal, with worldwide usage reported at 4.2%.
  • iPhone® app designer Josef Richter launched websites in an effort to kill browsers he believed were “standing in the way of progress”:
    • theie7countdown.com: Usage is down below 1% across the world.
    • theie8countdown.com
    • theie9countdown.com
    • theie10countdown.com (not yet updated for this version of IE)
  • A now defunct ie6funeral.com website existed to allow users to “mourn” the death of IE6 in 2010.
    • Hosted by Aten Design Group of Denver, CO; the event housed 80-100 “mourners.”
      • The website read: "Internet Explorer Six, resident of the interwebs for over 8 years, died the morning of March 1, 2010, in Mountain View, California, as a result of a workplace injury sustained at the headquarters of Google, Inc.," the obit read. "Internet Explorer Six, known to friends and family as 'IE6,' is survived byson Internet ExplorerSeven, and grand-daughter Internet Explorer Eight."
        • March 1 date came from Google dropping IE6 from supported browsers list for Google Docs and Google Sites.
    • Microsoft joined the fun and sent flowers and a card that read:
      • "Thanks for the good times, IE6. See you at MIX where we'll show a little piece of IE heaven."
  • In April 2014, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned against using IE until a serious vulnerability had been patched.
    • The issue can be found in every version of IE from 6 through 11.
    • It can leave a person’s entire computer exposed.
  • CVE-2014-1776 is a remote execution vulnerability, meaning hackers can gain the same rights as the user, to control every aspect of the computer.
    • The hacker could:
      • Install additional malware.
      • Create additional user accounts.
      • Delete and change files and data stored on the hard drive.

IE is still on the decline. Users continue to look to Google Chrome, which held 38% of the market share in June 2014; a 5.2% increase since June 2013.


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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George Hilman

October 30, 2017

The “Who Killed Internet Explorer?” article is good.

But, obviously, the first browsers (Netscpe, IE, et al.) were geared toward desktop computers. As laptops, notebooks, “mobile devices,” etc. were “foreordained” by Microsoft and other publisher of OSs to push desktops out of the market, it is no surprise that big, full-featured browsers would take a hit.