LOS ANGELES — Microsoft has announced an end to an era in Internet history, with a decision to drop its widely used Internet Explorer browser from the next version of its Windows operating system.
Over its two-decade long evolution, Internet Explorer has been the world’s most popular web browser — despite the constant criticism from developers, many of whom chimed in simply to be contrarian — bashing the corporate giant’s browser over issues of security, speed and other factors, while supporting alternative platforms such as Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox.
While the actual usage percentages will vary from site to site, based upon the site’s audience makeup, most sources agree that Internet Explorer’s once dominant standing (which surpassed 75 percent of all Internet users a decade ago), has fallen dramatically — with W3Schools noting that more than 62 percent of global Internet users last month relied on Google’s Chrome, with nearly 23 percent using Firefox and only eight percent opting to use Internet Explorer. For its part, StatCounter reports that around 52 percent of users were on Chrome, with Internet Explorer in second place at 20.75 percent, while Firefox came in third at just over 18 percent.
On a personal, nostalgic note, this author recalls the early days of web development, when the Internet was accessed via a computer’s command line. Microsoft Windows (along with IBM’s OS/2 and others) suddenly made visual computing an affordable reality, while NCSA’s Mosaic browser brought images to what had been a primarily text-based Internet. The stage was set for the explosion in technology that brought us today’s Internet — with Microsoft’s release of its Internet Explorer browser being one of the major tipping points, because not only was it bundled with new PCs, dramatically building its user base, but it rendered pages more attractively than its competitors; becoming a showcase “portfolio” platform for designers and developers at the time.
The winner of the “Browser Wars,” Internet Explorer quickly became number one — and like all market leaders, an easy target for derision. This partisan “Chevy vs. Ford” mentality lingers — resulting in much rejoicing this week, in certain geeky quarters, over Internet Explorer’s impending demise.
Whether you are cheering, crying or indifferent over this news, don’t expect Internet Explorer to simply disappear overnight, as Microsoft says that it will continue to make a version available online, in order to support legacy applications that rely on the browser’s capabilities.
And don’t think that this move puts Microsoft out of the browser business, as the company is also in the process of rolling out a replacement for Internet Explorer — code-named “Project Spartan” — set to be released along with Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows 10.
Microsoft’s Chris Capossela teased the audience at Microsoft Convergence earlier this week, by showing a video presentation that revealed several of Spartan’s features: including its new rendering engine; the ability to annotate web pages and other content, via finger, keyboard or stylus, and to share those notes via OneDrive, in a process that is familiar to editors of Microsoft Office documents; and a reading mode that restructures web pages — eliminating clutter (including ads, it seems), for an enhanced book-like reading experience. A new Reading List pane will also offer offline content retrieval, so that documents and websites can be saved and enjoyed later, even when no Internet connection is available.
While much remains to be seen in this evolution of Internet Explorer into “Project Spartan,” including an official name for the offering, one thing is certain — an important part of Internet history will soon come to an end.