Saying Goodbye to Internet Explorer (Premium)

Over roughly 20 years, Internet Explorer experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. But it’s time to say goodbye. Past time, really.

And since my own history in personal technology journalism parallels that of Internet Explorer, I thought it may be more interesting to tell a few stories from the dawn of the Internet era interspersed with what happened to Microsoft's web browser.

In 1995, Gary Brent and I were working long nights to finish our Windows 95 book in time for the product’s launch. There were distractions: Microsoft also plied us with betas for Office 95, Plus! 95, and MSN (“the Microsoft Network”), an online service that would integrate with the Windows 95 shell.

But there was also a wildcard: Microsoft had licensed technology from Spyglass and was creating its own web browser, called Internet Explorer (IE). This browser would not be done in time to be included in the box---and, yes, back then, there were actual boxes---but it would ship with Plus! 95 and PC makers were, ahem, encouraged to install it on new Windows 95-based PCs as well. IE would formally ship as an integrated part of Windows 95 in OEM Service Release 1 (OSR-1), which, as its name implies, was aimed at PC makers since Windows was most broadly distributed on new PCs.

IE was initially interesting because it, like MSN, integrated with the Windows 95 file system. That said, this is also what got Microsoft in trouble with U.S. antitrust regulators: in a bid to forestall Netscape Navigator from spearheading a new web platform that might surpass Windows, the software giant artificially integrated IE deeply into Windows 95 to give it an unfair competitive advantage. Unfortunately, this integration was the source of many reliability and performance issues as well, since IE was new technology at the time. (I remember its later inclusion in the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack being a source of irritation because it introduced serious issues to that once rock-solid platform.)

The first two versions of IE were unimpressive, but Microsoft quickly iterated and had even grander plans that went beyond the products and features it eventually introduced. In the pre-broadband days of 1996, I recall going to a local movie theater to view a satellite broadcast from Microsoft about IE 3.0, which was going to finalize the web/file system integration and add features like frames, Site Map, and FTP. This was the first time I saw Joe Belfiore (remotely), and I was delighted to later meet him at the Windows XP launch a few years later.

IE 3.0 was the version that put Microsoft’s web browser over the top. It arrived almost exactly one year after Windows 95 and was launched with a splashy “midnight madness” online event. It also surpassed Netscape Navigator as the most sophisticated web browser and usage. Netscape tried to recover by creating the Communicator suite, and it sought legal and regulatory remedies that eventually did curtail Microsoft. But not b...

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