Goodbye Internet Explorer

In connection with the withdrawal of the Internet Explorer browser from the market, co-founder and director of Vivaldi Jon von Thachner recalls his story and explains why the loss of this browser is not really a loss.

August 17, 2020 Microsoft made a decision get rid of Internet Explorer browser. The company continues to develop its browser called Edge, which originally came with its own eponymous engine, but the original Internet Explorer will no longer exist in the browser world.

One would be sorry that another browser engine is leaving the Internet. Competition always helps the development of web technologies and the addition of innovations to browser engines, it’s hard to argue with that.

But in reality, the loss of Internet Explorer is not something negative for all netizens. I can say that the disappearance of the engine Presto was a much larger loss, but if Internet Explorer disappeared, the Internet only gets better, even Microsoft finally realized this.

Internet Explorer: maintain, develop, destroy

The first version of Internet Explorer was based on the original browser code Mosaic, the license for which was purchased from the company Spyglass… In fact, Microsoft was late in entering the new market. Initially, they wanted to create their own world wide web, but, as is the case with other attempts to create a proprietary Internet, made by giants such as AOL and Compuserve, they have failed.

Seeing dynamic growth in popularity Netscape, Microsoft understood that something needed to be done, and they did. After purchasing a license for Mosaic code, they hit the road using their infamous tactic “Support, develop, destroy” (“Embrace, Extend, Extinguish”).

The essence of their tactics was as follows. First of all, they actively engaged in supporting the then existing web standards and gradually attracted a community to their camp that was engaged in the development of these standards. Then they cut off the oxygen to Netscape by embedding Internet Explorer into the Windows operating system and making it harder for everyone else to access it, thereby quickly gaining the upper hand in the browser market.

Then they began to “improve” and expand web standards, completely ignoring the opinion of the standards development community. During that period, they launched technologies such as ActiveX and Silverlighthowever, other browsers could not work with services and websites using these technologies.

At the same time, they began to include additional proprietary components in their own HTML / CSS / JavaScript implementation, which significantly complicated the life of web developers. As a result, many website builders were forced to optimize their designs for the “special” standards of Internet Explorer instead of open, generally used web standards, which made life difficult for developers of other browsers.

Microsoft is about to take over the entire Internet

At this time my friend and I Geir Ivarsøy started building their own browser Opera

As a competitor to Microsoft, we felt the company’s aggressive tactics against other browsers.

It was impossible to achieve a default installation on computers with the Windows operating system. Various projects in which we tried to solve this problem, organized in conjunction with companies such as Compaq or Intel, have been closed due to threats from Microsoft. At the same time, we were experiencing compatibility issues with websites pioneered by the Redmond giant. I can list a few such examples:

  • Microsoft developed its own server software and with one of the updates (up to version 4) they included a file in the code that prevented cookies from being sent to our browser. We took a long time to find the root cause of this problem. Popular websites like the BBC did not display correctly in Opera and we received a lot of complaints. After we found the root of the problem, Microsoft fixed the bug.
  • Microsoft prevented Opera users from accessing their services MSN, under the pretext that Opera does not support XHTML. In reality, it was we who had full XHTML support, and they did not.
  • Microsoft sent a modified CSS file from its servers to Opera users, thereby creating incorrect display of text on pages. It was really stupid, so we laughed and released a special version Opera borkwhich distorted the display of articles on MSN services as if the text was written by a Swedish Chef from the Muppets. It worked – Microsoft stopped doing such petty sabotage.

But at the same time, there were more and more websites on the Internet where we were experiencing problems. With Microsoft’s increasing deviation from web standards and their dominance in the browser market, many websites have started asking to use only Internet Explorer to access their content.

At the time, Microsoft was very close to taking full control of the Internet.

Microsoft’s tactics backfire

Microsoft killed Netscape and even though there was a browser instead Mozilla, he could not make a noticeable impact on the market in those days.

Fortunately, Microsoft’s tactics have backfired on itself. They stopped developing the Internet Explorer browser starting with the sixth version, apparently in the hope of gradually transferring all users to the use of Silverlight technology.

At the same time, Opera, Mozilla and Apple supported World Wide Web Consortium decided to join forces to improve open web standards. Together, we created HTML 4 that took the web to the next level.

Gradually, the total number of users of alternative browsers began to grow and Microsoft resumed the development of Internet Explorer, but now they are in the role of catching up. Still being a monopolist in the market, they came under the cross control of the antimonopoly services of the United States and the European Union, which significantly reduced their ability to unfairly fight with competitors.

In those days, Microsoft found itself on the brink of a forced separation by using its dominant position to destroy a competitor in the form of Netscape, so they had to play in the field of fair competition, where they expectedly began to lose ground. All of a sudden, inconsistency with standards went from being a market advantage to being a serious problem.

Web standards first, then Internet Explorer

From that point on, more and more websites began to write code in accordance with web standards, and only then made additional amendments to support the “features” of Internet Explorer.

Now Microsoft is faced with a problem that it itself created. It has become very difficult for them to maintain both open web standards and their own deviations from them at the same time. In the end, they made the decision to ditch their own flawed old code and move entirely to support only open web standards. But doing this work from scratch is very difficult – it is a huge amount of code, and there are also a lot of websites on the Internet that track the name Internet Explorer in the data about the browser and give out the modified code for such a browser. Eventually Microsoft decided to switch to using the engine Chromium

* * *

I must say that Microsoft is still too early to write off. Antitrust organizations are now focusing more on giants like Google or Facebook, and we can see Microsoft taking advantage of the moment to gradually try to steal other users by making it difficult for other browsers to be the default browser on the operating system through updates and policy changes.

At the same time, it’s nice to see Internet Explorer fade into oblivion. I am a strong advocate that users always have a choice, but Internet Explorer is not a choice that has ever been useful.

Article author: Jon von Tetzchner

Photo: Aron visuals, Unsplash

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