By David Goldman for CNN Business
The end is finally near for Internet Explorer, one of Microsoft’s most-reviled products that refused to die.
Microsoft announced this week that it will end support for Internet Explorer 11 on June 15, 2022. That final nail in the coffin came after years of flirting with IE’s demise.
For example, in August 2020, Microsoft turned its back on IE for its own products. Workplace chat software Teams stopped working with IE last fall, and its 365 apps (including Office) will no longer work on IE by mid-summer 2021.
Once the most-used web browser, Internet Explorer had been on a steady downward trajectory for nearly two decades. Its share of the browser market fell below the 50% threshold in 2010 and now sits at about 5%, according to browser usage tracker NetMarketShare. Google’s (GOOGL) Chrome is the browser leader, commanding a 69% share of the market.
In its death announcement, Microsoft said Internet Explorer is slow, no longer practical for or compatible with many modern web tasks, and is far less secure than modern browsers.
Yet IE has miraculously managed to stick around for 26 years. Microsoft has continued to ship IE with Windows to ensure that corporate apps keep functioning properly. Corporations tend to be very slow to adopt new browser versions, particularly if they custom-build applications for them.
Most Windows 10 PC owners probably never noticed that IE is installed on their computers. Edge, Microsoft’s modern browser, is based on Google’s open source Chrome code, and has gained much more traction than IE in recent years.
It’s unclear if Microsoft will stop installing IE on Windows PCs by default once the company discontinues support for IE, although that would be likely. Microsoft’s latest version of the Edge browser supports web apps built for IE so customers don’t have to keep switching between browsers. So IE has at long last outlived its usefulness.
“We are announcing that the future of Internet Explorer on Windows 10 is in Microsoft Edge,” said Sean Lyndersay, Microsoft’s program manager for Edge. “Not only is Microsoft Edge a faster, more secure and more modern browsing experience than Internet Explorer, but it is also able to address a key concern: compatibility for older, legacy websites and applications.”
Once a monopoly, now forgotten
Internet Explorer debuted in 1995 as part of Windows 95 and became an instant hit. It successfully killed off Netscape Navigator, and it achieved a virtual monopoly in the early 2000s. At its 2002 peak, Internet Explorer commanded 95% of the browser market.
But Microsoft failed to innovate, essentially leaving Internet Explorer 6 alone to gather dust and cobwebs for five years. That frustrated customers and sent them fleeing for greener pastures. Internet Explorer became synonymous with bugs, security problems and outdated technology.
Microsoft (MSFT) finally released IE7 in 2006, but the damage was done. Microsoft paved the way for Firefox and then Chrome to surpass it.
The company tried to revitalise IE: With Internet Explorer 9 in 2011, Microsoft finally released a modern browser. Still, to this day IE still doesn’t support extensions, isn’t available on non-Windows devices and doesn’t sync with other devices by default — all mainstays of Chrome and Firefox.
Microsoft acknowledges that IE isn’t ideal for web browsing.
“Customers have been using IE 11 since 2013 when the online environment was much less sophisticated than the landscape today,” the company said last August. “Since then, open web standards and newer browsers — like the new Microsoft Edge — have enabled better, more innovative online experiences.”
That’s why, for the past five years, Microsoft has been trying — unsuccessfully — to kill Internet Explorer.
In an “Ask Me Anything” chat on Reddit in 2014, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer engineers acknowledged that the company was considering a name change to “separate ourselves from negative perceptions” about the browser.
Instead, Microsoft developed a whole new browser, releasing Edge in 2015. But Edge didn’t actually replace IE. Internet Explorer to this day is pre-installed on Windows PCs alongside Edge.