It was once used by nearly 1bn people, making it one of the world’s best-known technology brands. But even Microsoft, its maker, has been forced to admit that it is deeply unloved.
Internet Explorer — the software that launched the browser wars of the 1990s and became a symbol of the Seattle company’s former stranglehold on the tech world — is about to be ushered into retirement.
The group confirmed this week that it would not use the IE name for the new browser that it plans to ship with the next version of its Windows operating system, due later this year. The revised software, codenamed Project Spartan, is intended to catapult Microsoft beyond the Web 1.0 world for which IE was designed.
Nearly a decade ago, Dean Hachamovitch, the then-head of the IE business, confessed at an industry conference: “We messed up.”With Spartan, Microsoft hopes to vault past IE’s weaknesses to produce a browser that is more suited to a digital life lived on multiple devices — part of the strategy of new chief executive Satya Nadella to break the company’s reliance on its old PC monopoly.
Tom Bedecarre, chairman of Akqa, a digital advertising agency owned by WPP, said the 20-year old brand was long past its sell-by date. “In the war of the future, which is mobile, they’re losing,” he said. “Nobody’s going to download Internet Explorer as their mobile browser.”
Microsoft has admitted that it failed to make IE a more loved part of daily life over the years. It even resorted to self-mockery in some of its advertising, referring to it as “The Browser You Loved To Hate”.“It’s been a product problem for a long time,” said Dan Brewster, a senior interactive designer with Wolff Olins, the marketing agency. “People don’t like it,” he added, but used it only because it came pre-installed on their computers or because they were required to by their employers.
IE’s historic significance was sealed in the late-1990s. Designed to counter the rise of browser pioneer Netscape at the dawn of the internet, it was shipped free with the pervasive Windows operating system — a tactic that later made Microsoft the target of an antitrust investigation.
It overtook Netscape within three years and went on to dominate access to the online world, accounting for an estimated 95 per cent of browser usage soon after the turn of the millennium. But a combination of complacency and the failure to anticipate the shift to mobile sealed IE’s fate.
First the open-source Firefox browser and, more recently, Google’s Chrome ate into IE’s market share, using faster technology and slicker design to win users. Microsoft’s share of browser usage has fallen to around 20 per cent, similar to Firefox, while Chrome has risen to nearly 50 per cent, based on online activity.
Although being pushed into retirement, the IE name will live on, if only for a short time. A new version of IE will be included in the next Windows launch as well as the Spartan browser, to make life easier for companies that have developed software to work with the browser.