Internet Explorer was once synonymous with the Internet, but today it’s gone for good

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Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has had many deaths over the years, but today it’s the one that matters. The final version of the browser, Internet Explorer 11, stop receiving support or security updates starting today, and it will be phased out from Windows 10 PCs via Windows Update at some point in the future. It was never installed on Windows 11 PCs.

Microsoft says people who open Internet Explorer “over the next few months” will be “gradually” redirected to Microsoft Edge, which will offer to import all saved bookmarks and passwords to ease the transition. For users and businesses that require Internet Explorer to access individual websites, Microsoft will continue to support Internet Explorer mode in Microsoft Edge until “at least 2029”. Internet Explorer Mode combines Edge’s user interface with IE11’s older Trident rendering engine, allowing older websites that don’t render properly in newer browsers to continue working.

It’s the end of the line for Internet Explorer, a browser that wiped out every competitor in the browser wars of the late 90s only to be wiped out forever in the browser wars of the early 2010s. For those who don’t weren’t there, we’ve put together a brief history of the life and times of Internet Explorer. The golden age of IE is a distant memory, but the whole story is worth knowing. Google Chrome is on top of the world today, but it didn’t happen overnight, and the browser wars have only been cyclical.

From the Mosaic fork to the devourer of the world

The Internet Explorer About screen advertised its Mosaic roots all the way back to version 6.
Enlarge / The Internet Explorer About screen advertised its Mosaic roots all the way back to version 6.

Andrew Cunningham

The history of Internet Explorer begins with NCSA Mosaic, one of the first graphical web browsers. It was preceded by a handful of projects…Tim Berners-Lee’s Nexus Project is generally recognized as the first browser, and Cello predated Mosaic on Windows PCs, but Mosaic popularized browsers as we know them, with a recognizable modern user interface and support for inline images. The ability to combine images and text on the same page might seem like the absolute bare minimum for a browser today, but in the early 90s it was revolutionary.

Mosaic-inspired competitors. Some, like Netscape Navigator, were their own separate projects, although most people who created Netscape first worked on Mosaic. Others were direct offshoots of Mosaic and used its trademarks and source code. One of these offshoots was Internet Explorer.

Microsoft licensed a version of Mosaic from Spyglass, Inc., which itself licensed the original version of Mosaic in an effort to unify its disparate codebases and ensure that the browser would support the same functionality on all supported platforms. Microsoft was just one of the companies that licensed the Spyglass version of Mosaic; the company hoped to get into the browser market quickly by putting its name on an existing browser rather than building one from scratch.

Early versions of IE weren’t particularly noteworthy, and they mostly caught up with Netscape while adding support for multiple platforms (by the time version 3.0 was released in mid-1996, IE ran on Windows 95, NT and 3.1, as well as 68K and PowerPC Macs). But Windows 95 was taking over the computing world at the time, and Microsoft used its growing dominance of the PC platform to push its other products, IE foremost among them.

Microsoft’s consolidation of Internet Explorer with Windows—and, by the time Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 4 arrived, ever-deeper integration of the browser into the rest of the operating system—was a double-edged sword. For one thing, IE’s market share grew dramatically in 1996 and 1997, taking a huge share from Netscape simply because it was available by default on most Windows-era PCs. 95. On the other hand, it drew intense legal scrutiny, beginning with an $8 million settlement with Spyglass (Microsoft had agreed to pay Spyglass royalties based on IE sales and then bundled it for free with Windows, technically generating no income) and continuing with a landmark antitrust case provided by the US government.

If you haven’t lived through those times, it’s hard to imagine how Windows has been computing in the late 90s. The Mac existed and was still loved by the proverbial “crazy”, but it was at rock bottom in terms of commercial reach and cultural relevance. Early Windows competitors like OS/2 and BeOS had been mostly defeated. We were years away from Linux distros that even claimed usability. Palm Pilots, Apple Newtons, and Pocket PCs were odd niche gadgets used by Business Dads, the guys who learned valuable lessons about putting family before work in ’90s movies.

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