Internet Explorer is finally dead

Wed, Jun 15, 2022 3-minute read

I was working the night shift at a motel while going to school during the day, when my parents saw a help wanted ad for a local ISP. This was in the late 90s when public use of the Internet was starting to take off, and that sounded like a lot more fun than balancing books every night.

It was. Although I technically worked in tech support, at least at first, in a small shop everyone learns how to do everything. Soon I was learning networking, configuring routers, managing Linux systems, and doing full stack web development. At the time, that meant using Gimp to carve up images to shoehorn into HTML table layouts, and using Perl to write CGI scripts to process forms.

That meant having very strong opinions about web browsers, and the preferences tended to fall into two camps:

  • If you used Windows and were new to the Internet, you liked Internet Explorer.
  • Everyone else preferred Netscape Navigator.

Netscape was better in almost every way, except for the most crucial: Windows came with Internet Explorer. And from Microsoft's point of view, that was just peachy. They were able to leverage their famous "embrace, extend, and extinguish" policy to push ever more Windows-specific functions onto the web. Why struggle with tricky HTML forms when you could embed ActiveX controls right there in the web page? Or why use the industry standard HTML, CSS, and JavaScript definitions when you could use Microsoft's own proprietary versions that were very slightly more convenient to use (even though it meant the page wouldn't load in Netscape on Windows or any other OS)?

For the next decade, Microsoft used every trick in their book to make Internet Explorer the standard web browser, even though it was very non-standard. And once they succeeded, they got bored and forgot to improve it further, at least until Google's Chrome started getting popular.

And through it all, my colleagues and I continued to try to make web pages that looked good and worked well in all browsers. That process looked like:

  • Develop the web page, testing with Firefox or Chrome, until you got it working.
  • Test it on the other browser to make sure it still worked.
  • Find a creaky Windows box to test it with, see what broke because Internet Explorer didn't process standard HTML correctly, and tweak it until it looked mostly correctly in all 3 browsers.
  • Go home and drink.

The Browser Wars were a real, serious struggle, and it wasn't at all obvious whether open technologies or proprietary vendors were going to win.

The web's in much better shape now, with several major desktop and mobile browsers that work more or less the same. Sure, there are still differences that have to be dealt with, but at least they all use basically the same DOM, and the same JavaScript runs on most browsers unless you're pushing at the edges.

And now, all these years later, Internet Explorer is finally dead. After many long years of fighting against that abomination, I won't miss it one bit.