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RIP IE

Not a day too soon. But will anything change?


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REDMOND (Rixstep) — So Internet Explorer goes to the grave. Not a day too soon. Microsoft, very aware of how people really feel about IE, even had websites like the following.

Domain Name: thebrowseryoulovedtohate.com
Registry Domain ID: 1700310504_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN
Creation Date: 2012-02-03T12:57:35-0800
Registrant Organization: Microsoft Corporation
Registrant Street: One Microsoft Way
Registrant City: Redmond
Registrant State/Province: WA

The media aren't telling you much about IE. You can call their reports 'revisionist history'. Perhaps they feel you wouldn't want to hear about it.

But Internet Explorer is much more than a crappy browser.

Back to the beginning. Back to the team at University of Illinois who worked on one of the world's first web browsers. Back before most people even heard of the web.

The university group ultimately split into two. One went on to become Mosaic Communications Corporation. Mosaic morphed later into Netscape. And Netscape Navigator was the world's first viable web browser ever. It sold for $29.

But the other part of that university team also had browser code...

Enter Bill Gates.

Bill Gates didn't believe in the Internet. Or the 'WorldWideWeb' that Tim Berners-Lee had invented. Bill Gates had only rude things to say to Steve Jobs about Unix, and his 'OLE' technologies were totally out of tune with what was coming. And he had his hands full trying to get Windows 94 out the door a year late.

But by the summer of 1995 he knew what was coming.

Right in the middle of his long-awaited rollout of 'Chicago' aka 'Windows 94' aka 'Windows 95' (which finally saw the dark of day on 24 August 1995 - the date has a significance for Apple adherents) Bill Gates stole away to his hi-tech retreat to write his book 'The Road Ahead' in which he suggested 'computers' thereafter be called 'communicators', and in which he expressed his humble desire to see Microsoft become an integral part of the future of 'connected' computing.

Bill Gates looked in his crystal ball and saw that Netscape Navigator would soon make his Windows irrelevant. So behind the scenes, as he completed his book, his team worked overtime to make sure that never happened.

Back to that other part of the original team at the University of Illinois - those who didn't go to Mosaic. They instead formed Spyglass (Entertainment).

Bill Gates approached them to make a deal. This deal would perhaps be the best deal he ever made. His acquisition of the scratchy code for Tim Paterson's 'QADOS' was a great move, to say the least: Gates got the code for a facile $50,000, then used it to barter IBM for what turned into his first billions. (Paterson later sued Gates, got a good settlement and a job at Microsoft, and then went on tour pimping the system. Gates still profited.)

But this coming deal with Spyglass would be even better. The Gates deal with Spyglass for their web browser code was based totally on royalties. Gates agreed to pay Spyglass a commission for every copy sold, and to acknowledge their contribution in the browser's 'about box'.



And he did. This would have been a sweet deal for Spyglass, save for one thing: Bill Gates never intended to 'sell' the browser. Spyglass never got a red cent.

It's estimated that Bill Gates invested $5 billion in early development of what he'd call 'Internet Explorer'. $5 billion. Without a thought towards 'return on investment'. Chump change for Gates perhaps - but it shows how important the browser was.

As the findings of facts from the DOJ trial showed, Gates wasn't really interested in giving the world a web browser - he wanted to drive Netscape out of business. He'd called the Netscape corporate leaders to his office and told them they must not port their browser to Windows. They didn't listen.

Why? Again from the findings of facts: Netscape represented a way to make Windows irrelevant. Netscape and its associated technologies gave developers a means to write nontrivial applications without using Windows at all.

The assault on Netscape began on all fronts. Wintel OEMs were already in a serious financial bind; the Windows OEM licence agreements were now bound to not letting customers download Netscape Navigator too much. IBM almost lost their contract because too many people were finding links to download Netscape Navigator.

Microsoft gave ISPs 'branding deals'. And computer stores had bins upon bins full of IE diskettes - yes, back then the entire Spyglass/Microsoft web browser fit comfortably on a single 1.44 MB bakelite diskette. And it was all free.

But as the findings of facts explained, Bill Gates never wanted to produce a 'best of breed' browser - he only wanted (needed) to create one that was 'good enough' once he'd succeeded in running Netscape out of the market.

Free as opposed to $29 was a good incentive. So was easy access. And ISP-branded versions of IE. And yet those users who were no more than casually awake still understood that IE was crap.

Bill Gates had yet another agenda, commonly called 'embrace and extend'. Bill Gates didn't like open standards. You cannot rake in billions to donate to the poor in India with open standards. For Bill Gates had finally understood, after years of really not getting it, that having control of the operating system gave him the decisive advantage when it comes to the ordinary software market (just ask Borland and WordPerfect) and now he saw the same thing with open standards.

The 'embrace and extend' strategy - once the most accursed concept in IT - was something that Bill Gates again spent a fortune to spread. He sent top execs flying across the globe to sell his ideas to major corporate partners.

Embrace: first you ostensibly adopt (and support) an open standard. Your technology supports it, your execs praise it. Things get to become a bit mellow. You sit and wait until the market starts enjoying a discernible equilibrium.

Extend: you now come out - innocently - with a few new ideas of your own, and suggest them to some of your more important partners. 'Hey let's just add this! And this too! Those are great features! Don't you agree!' And of course everyone agrees.

But Bill Gates never gave back to the community. And by getting widespread support for his 'extended' versions of an open standard, he was able to break it.

At least that was the idea. And it wreaked havoc that's felt even to this day. How many web masters are sick and tired of HTML snippets like the following?

<!--[if IE 8]>
<html id='ie8' lang='en'>
<![endif]-->
<!--[if !(IE 8)]><!-->

Bill's competitors finally took him to court, and the US DOJ opened a major investigation. Chief magistrate TP Jackson was so appalled by what he'd seen - and by Bill's behaviour in court - that he lost it: he started cursing Bill on the record. Bill's lawyers could jump in at the magistrate's indiscretion and get a lot of the case tossed out.

Gates had even gone so far as to migrate system code - code that developers used for years before the Internet - into code modules used exclusively by his Internet Explorer. This is no idle speculation: developers worldwide uttered puzzled WTFs and had no clue what was going on. They were soon to find out.

Magistrate TP Jackson at the DOJ trial wanted to find out if it was possible to get Internet Explorer off a Windows computer. Of course it had been possible - before Gates started moving the code around. But Gates needed to fool Jackson into believing that the web browser was an integral part of a system that had existed on its own years earlier.

Gates is shameless. He's pulled every trick in the book. Fake grass roots movements defending him in the trial, populated with names from graveyards; stating himself that the trial was a threat to US national security; and so on. The list is endless.

Netscape's attempt to enter the Windows PC market was what started it off. They were told in no uncertain terms by Gates what would happen if they tried; they didn't believe Gates; history shows what Gates did to stop them. And it wasn't to stop them from releasing a software product - it was to stop them from spreading a technology that would have made Windows irrelevant.

Netscape used the abortive Microsoft Foundation Classes for their Windows port, and found out too late what a mistake they'd made. Internet Explorer won the browser war, not because it was the best browser - far from it - but because Gates' bag of dirty tricks drove Netscape away. Navigator today is Firefox, and it's a good product - it's widely supported.

As for Internet Explorer? Gates lost all interest in it once he survived the DOJ trial. Internet Explorer was almost literally abandoned. This should be proof, if any were ever needed, that Bill Gates never had any ambition to give the world a good product.

As open standards evolved; as Netscape aka Mozilla aka Firefox (and others) evolved with them, IE stayed behind, leaving web developers to squeeze ridiculous snippets like this into their code.

<!--[if IE 8]>
<html id='ie8' lang='en'>
<![endif]-->
<!--[if !(IE 8)]><!-->

Not that IE has ever been particularly secure either. Coupled with their abortive web server software, unanimously considered the worst in the world:

http://rixstep.com/1/1/20070206,00.shtml

IE became the perfect attack vector for malware. The web server could easily be hacked and used to direct further attacks on unwitting visitors using IE for access. Some of these attacks were so sophisticated that Microsoft have never found out how to fix them. Considering the unwieldy (and unnecessary) complexity of their rather confused code, that's not at all remote.

So now the techie mags can announce the end of Internet Explorer - once hailed, alongside Outlook, as the most easily infected software product in the world. But there's no indication that Microsoft the corporation, or Bill Gates himself, are about to change tack. Their track record for the new millennium is less than stellar, to say the least. Few corporations have survived with as many epic fails as Microsoft the past fifteen years. And with a corporate culture not keen on 'de novo innovations' as Steve Ballmer liked to call them, it's not likely things are going to get any better.

According to W3Schools, IE currently has a paltry 8% of the world market. The dip below 50% finally occurred in 2008. But Bill Gates didn't care. He didn't want IE to be 'best of breed'. He never sold a single copy. Spyglass won't even admit online today that the code was theirs. Bill Gates only wanted Netscape gone - he only wanted Windows to survive.

See Also
W3Schools: Browser Statistics
Gizmodo: Internet Explorer Is Dead
CBC News: Internet Explorer out to pasture
Guardian: Microsoft's Internet Explorer is dead but don't celebrate just yet

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