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A Eulogy for Internet Explorer, the Browser Everyone Loved to Hate

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 19, 2015 9:21 AM

I was an IT Guy once. In college, I worked as a student technician, responsible for helping other students troubleshoot computer and network connectivity issues. Internet Explorer was the bane of my existence.

The time was 2002-05, the height of Internet Explorer 6's popularity. IE6 used a plugin technology called ActiveX that basically gave ActiveX controls unfettered access to the operating system. This was, as you might expect, a terrible idea that led to horrible security problems at worst, and headache-inducing annoyance at best.

Terrible, Awful, No-Good, Very Bad Plugins

A college student who installed Bonzi Buddy -- a nominally artificially intelligent cartoon monkey that could "help" find things on the Internet -- was opening himself up to a world of hurt. Plugins like Bonzi Buddy were really just vectors for pop-up ads.

We received machines that would utterly unusable thanks to pop-ups opening new browser windows -- full of ads -- every few seconds. The machines themselves ground to a halt in terms of performance, as the machine's entire processing power was at the service of displaying ads. Some of the more nefarious spyware would disable antivirus and antispyware programs, or reinstall itself as soon as it was removed.

Thanks, IE.

Recognizing that ActiveX was awful, Microsoft increased security; for example, a Web page couldn't automatically install ActiveX controls, but the damage was done. Internet Explorer went from a market share of 75 percent in September 2005 to 9.9 percent in September 2014.

The introduction of faster, more customizable browsers like Firefox (in 2005) and Google Chrome (in 2008) certainly contributed to this downfall, but security always loomed in the background. People still remembered the terrifying days of search engine hijackers and auto-dialers. "IE" always meant "IE6" in people's minds, long after IE6 ceased to be a thing (although, incredibly, IE6 still had a 1.3 percent market share in January 2015!).

Let's Never Speak of This Again

Nevertheless, IE, along with the long-since-defunct Netscape Navigator, was one of the major commercial implementations of NCSA Mosaic, the "original" Web browser, giving it a place in Internet history.

Yet, this may be the last year Internet Explorer exists. Microsoft is reportedly retiring IE in Windows 10, in favor of a new browser mysteriously called Project Spartan. Project Spartan will apparently leverage how people actually use the Internet today, meaning it will incorporate distraction-free reading, built-in sharing, and integration with Cortana (Microsoft's version of Siri).

IE has seemed like an anachronism for years. Throughout multiple post-IE6 versions, Microsoft added a little new functionality, but basically, IE hadn't changed. It's more standards compliant (finally), but it remains fundamentally the same Web browser it was in 1995. With Project Spartan -- whatever that is -- Microsoft will put IE's dark, unspeakable past behind it.

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