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After 27 years, Microsoft has retired Internet Explorer

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

I am pleased to announce that no one will ever again have to tell Internet Explorer, no, I don't want you to be my default browser because after 27 years, Microsoft retired Explorer today. For many of us, it was an early online relationship, kind of like a starter marriage. But as the internet grew, so did competition. And today, even though it's a punch line in the U.S., many people in other parts of the world still use Explorer. In fact, a survey in March found that about half of companies in Japan rely on it.

Margaret O'Mara is a professor of history at the University of Washington. She studies tech. Thank you for joining us to remember this giant of the early internet.

MARGARET O'MARA: Hi. How are you?

SHAPIRO: I'm good. Are you going to miss Explorer?

O'MARA: Oh...

SHAPIRO: Big sigh.

O'MARA: I have to confess, I haven't used Explorer in a while. I'm like a lot of people.

SHAPIRO: Why was it so successful back in the day? It launched in 1995. What made it dominant?

O'MARA: Because it was bundled with Microsoft software. At the time, Microsoft software was running - you know, upwards of 90% of the computers on the planet had Microsoft operating systems and apps on them. And so when everyone opened up their computer, there it was.

SHAPIRO: So it was never that it was good, it was just that it was built in.

O'MARA: It was there. Now, look; Internet Explorer appears in the summer of 1995 when the dominant browser is Netscape. And that is the superstar. At the time, Netscape had upwards of 80% of market share. If you were using a web browser, you were using Netscape. And Microsoft is trying to try to come and get part of that market. And like Netscape, IE was built on the same basic browser technology, Mosaic, which was developed at the University of Illinois. That was the first web browser. So it was - kind of had the same guts to it. It was, you know, same product, but it was a competitor.

SHAPIRO: Eventually, it's just being included in Microsoft was not enough. Why did it lose its place of dominance?

O'MARA: It gets competition. It gets Google developing Chrome, which is an improved version of the browser. It has alternatives like Firefox, which have been around for a while but gained in popularity. And then Apple, which starts to have its renaissance, develops Safari, which is a significant competitor. But then the other killer thing that's happening is mobile. Everyone's getting smartphones, and Microsoft and Internet Explorer are not part of that.

SHAPIRO: Who is still using it these days?

O'MARA: You know, there are very few American-based users, but there are a lot of users outside the U.S., particularly governments and public agencies in Asian countries. You know, part of this is the kind of longer legacy of big institutions using Microsoft operating systems and software and baking those into their operations. So yeah, there will be a transition for big organizations that are still using Internet Explorer, but hopefully they can move over to Edge.

SHAPIRO: We're supposed to speak highly of the dead at the time of their passing. Is there anything you can say for Internet Explorer that is a tribute to the way it's shaped our online experience? Does it leave any ripples in the pond?

O'MARA: Well, you know, I think the story of the rise and fall and the controversy of Internet Explorer - keep in mind, this was the reason that the Department of Justice sued Microsoft for antitrust infringement.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) I said say good things about it.

O'MARA: Yeah. But no, it tells us - it's a reminder that the tech world moves fast. No one is triumphant forever. So I think we just appreciate it for what it was and we look forward to the next thing.

SHAPIRO: Margaret O'Mara is a professor of history at the University of Washington. Thank you for taking this walk down memory lane with us.

O'MARA: It was my pleasure. Thanks for taking me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.