The end of Internet Explorer has been a long time coming

Internet Explorer is no more.

On Wednesday, Microsoft (MSFT) officially ended support for its OG web browser, Internet Explorer.

For many people, including me, Internet Explorer represents the dawn of the web. That Gatorade-color lowercase logo is associated with my earliest memories of the internet, from the virtual pet website Neopets to that utterly terrifying maze game.

However, nostalgia aside, the end of Internet Explorer has been in the works for years — the browser space has grown considerably more competitive since Internet Explorer originally launched in 1995, from the rise of Mozilla Firefox that began in 2002 to the increasingly popular open-source browser Brave that emerged in 2019.

Internet Explorer's rise was rooted in competition, as was its fall. The Browser Wars, as they were termed, saw Microsoft and Internet Explorer mired in an existential standoff with Netscape. Microsoft may have lost an antitrust case brought by the government, but in the markets the company beat out Netscape, as the company was sold to AOL and the browser itself went under in 2008.

Bill Gates defends Microsoft's decision to sell Windows98 with Internet Explorer.  (Photo by Robert Sorbo/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
Bill Gates defends Microsoft's decision to sell Windows98 with Internet Explorer. (Photo by Robert Sorbo/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

"[Internet Explorer] was one of the first browsers that came to widespread prominence because it was on every single Windows machine," Ari Lightman, digital media and marketing professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told Yahoo Finance.

But as Firefox launched in 2002 and the success of other open-source browsers mounted, Microsoft began to fall behind.

"You have open source coming out and saying, 'Hey, if you want to see how this is developed, great, we'll show you," he said. "It was this new paradigm that I don't think Microsoft gravitated towards quickly enough."

Justin Cappos, computer science and engineering professor at New York University, agrees. Since Microsoft was around before it had been proven that open-source was a viable business model, the company didn't adapt quickly.

“They were slow to open-source because piracy was such a big deal and such a big problem for them,” he told Yahoo Finance. “I think early in their corporate culture they equated open-source with free, and with piracy, which was such a big problem in Windows.”

The launch of Google Chrome in 2008 marked the official beginning of the end for Internet Explorer as the shiny new cross-platform browser grew to dominate the market. Chrome was the result of a full-court press of researchers looking into how to improve web browsers in the aughts. Microsoft's newer browser, Microsoft Edge, has also benefited from this research — the source code that’s in Chrome is also in Edge, according to Cappos.

“It’s necessary,” he said. “Internet Explorer needs to go. One of the most difficult things when you’re successful is that you need to eventually move users off of the old technology… We’ve learned a lot about how to better architect browsers since.”

Mostly dead is slightly alive

There's an important bit of nuance here. Internet Explorer, to quote Billy Crystal's famous line from "The Princess Bride," is "only mostly dead." See, the browser isn't dying completely — it'll live on Edge, where users can open sites that require Internet Explorer 11 in what's called IE Mode.

Microsoft's become highly invested in Edge, which the company launched in 2015. The move to focusing exclusively on Edge has been a long time coming and, in huge part, it’s a security move, Microsoft told Yahoo Finance. Internet Explorer simply wasn’t built to the same modern security and privacy standards as contemporary browsers, the company added in background conversations.

Miracle Max weighs in on the death of Internet Explorer. Image: Screenshot/YouTube
Miracle Max weighs in on the death of Internet Explorer. Image: Screenshot/YouTube

“If there’s one thing I want to emphasize, it’s that even though [moving on from Internet Explorer] may feel daunting and challenging for organizations, the key word is feel,“ a Microsoft spokesperson said. “There are a lot of resources available to turn to and we’re here because we have a promise to offer compatibility support at no cost. We want the move to Microsoft Edge with IE mode to be seamless.”

Internet Explorer has long been a favorite browser of hospitals and health care entities, as well as other industries like manufacturing. So, when building Edge, Microsoft was keen on addressing the pain points that IT administrators frequently encounter, from security to optimizing the design for both businesses and everyday users, the company said. This viewpoint is consistent with Microsoft's longtime identity as the tech giant that focuses on enterprise, said Lightman.

"Microsoft has always been very enterprise-focused, while Google's always been very consumer-focused," he told Yahoo Finance. "Most of the time when you're searching for personal reasons, or sometimes for research purposes, all this data is getting collected to determine consumer behavioral patterns and those sorts of things. Google utilizes all that from an advertising perspective, but Microsoft's businesses aren't really tied to advertising — it's more about sales of software and hardware."

So, if you really need Internet Explorer, you'll still be able to visit it through Microsoft Edge.

"There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead," said Crystal's Miracle Max in "The Princess Bride." "Mostly dead is slightly alive."

Allie Garfinkle is a senior tech reporter at Yahoo Finance. Find her on twitter @agarfinks.

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