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Why Internet Explorer had to die

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·3-min read
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 (Credit; WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
(Credit; WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Microsoft’s famed browser, Internet Explorer, has finally come to its end. The computer giant said that its official support for the browser will be ending by on 15 June, 2022 with the reins being passed to Microsoft Edge after 25 years.

Edge has “Internet Explorer mode” built in for older websites and applications, so the old browser will survive in some small form, but Microsoft says Edge is a more compatible, more streamlined, and more secure browsing experience.

What this means for the future of browsing is a complex question. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that, for the vast majority, Google Chrome is winning the browser war.

But the fight is not over yet, and the battleground is changing. Internet use has moved from desktop to mobile, where Google and Apple are dominant. The failure of Windows Phone means that Microsoft has a challenging path into that market, and so even with the continuing growth of Edge it may struggle in what has become the most important market.

Internet Explorer's fall

The Internet Explorer project was started in the summer of 1994, and by 2001 Microsoft had all-but-ubiquitous control. The extent of its dominance – inherently tied to the prominence of Windows XP - was so great that it commanded 90 percent of the market, and developers started coding entire websites around what Internet Explorer could or could not do.

As all empires eventually fall, Microsoft’s hegemony waned as it continually ignored web standards and continually missed updates, criticised as one of the “worst tech products of all time”.

Microsoft did not follow the guidelines set by the World Wide Web Consortium – the organisation that establishes standards for web technologies – and so Internet Explorer would often make web pages look different on its own browser than on others like Opera and Firefox.

Competitors arose. In 2004, the Mozilla foundation released the first Firefox browser, and in 2008 Google Chrome joined it. These companies were keen to move faster than Internet Explorer – something that was easy to achieve. New features were only added to Microsoft’s browser as a part of a major release, and it could take years for the company to update the browser.

In the decade since Google Chrome was launched, the search giant updated it 70 times. Microsoft, meanwhile, updated Internet Explorer only four times between its eighth iteration and its final, eleventh one.

The launch of Edge

Originally codenamed "Project Spartan" - reflecting Microsoft’s attempt to launch cut-down, efficient software - the company developed the Edge browser, launching it in 2015.

A year later, the company would start phasing out support for older generations of Internet Explorer – 8, 9, and 10.

Two years after the launch of Edge, however, Microsoft was suffering from the same issue its competitors had. Edge used a different rendering engine than Chrome and Safari, and had very little uptake among users; because of that, developers did not optimise websites for it and users ran into technical issues.

Microsoft made the decision to move to the Chromium codebase – the foundations of Google Chrome - to alleviate those problems in 2018. This move was criticised by Mozilla, which said that “would not concede that Google’s implementation of the web is the only option consumers should have”, but supported by Opera as it had taken the same action six years prior.

Whether or not this will prove a success remains to be seen. 65 percent of the world is using Google's browser, followed by Apple’s Safari (which commands a market share of 16 percent) with Firefox, Opera, and finally Edge following behind – with less than two percent of the market.

Moreover, an increasing percentage of internet usage is mobile. Smartphone browsers have risen to 51 percent of all browsing, while desktops have continuously declined to 49 percent. While Microsoft does have an Android and iOS browser app, the majority of users stick to the default set on their smartphone.

This article was originally published on 19 August 2020. it has been updated after Microsoft specified the date of Internet Explorer’s retirement.

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