Microsoft | IE Dead?
The confusion started when Microsoft exec Chris Capossela made some confusing comments about the company’s forthcoming browser, code-named Spartan, and how it would cohabit with Internet Explorer in Windows 10.
Many observers assumed the worst. But as is so often the case for Microsoft, Internet Explorer is legacy technology that the company has no choice but to support — even if it wanted to kill it.
Across multiple versions, Internet Explorer still holds more market share than any other browser options, according to NetMarket share. Most people use Internet Explorer 11 (22%) and IE 8 (19%).
Throw in another 8% for IE 9 and 5.5% for IE 10, and you have a more-than-50% share for Microsoft’s browser, not even counting earlier versions. Chrome, by contrast, has less than 20% of the market across its versions.
This may come as something of a surprise to those who think IE is half-dead already. Until its share is below 50%, I don’t think we can call it that.
When you realize the hundreds of millions of people still using Internet Explorer, you start to understand why Microsoft cannot simply “kill it.” People use it, some even love it.
Better than you think
The current Internet Explorer, version 11, is arguably less attractive than Google Chrome. It uses smaller, squeezed-together fonts with lots of sharp edges. It lacks Google’s excellent authentication system that allows you to sign into Chrome on any browser and enjoy a consistent experience that remembers all of your settings (such as your printers, extensions and browser history).
On the other hand, there nothing wrong with Internet Explorer. It offers many of the same features as Chrome, including tear-away tabs, auto-complete and search in the address bar, support for browser extensions and recovery of lost tabs. It’s fast, stable-ish and can handlesome very impressive graphics processing.
Basically, Internet Explorer is a decent browser. So what’s with all the hate?
I think it’s fair to say Internet Explorer got off on the wrong foot. First of all, Microsoft did not build it. It bought the Spyglass Mosaic web browser in the early 1990s and then rebranded it Internet Explorer. Back then, Netscape Navigator was the gold standard.
Computers that shipped with Windows 95 also included Internet Explorer. For some, this was history repeating itself. Microsoft built an early OS monopoly by convincing dozens of computer manufacturers to ship with Windows; now it was about to do the same thing with Internet Explorer.
The strategy worked. Between 1995 and the early 2000s, Internet Explorer dominated the browser scene. AOL bought Netscape in 1998 but could never recapture its early momentum.
Firefox showed promise in the early part of this century; now it is a bloated, advertising-filled mess that can’t even muster 10% of the desktop market share.
Its somewhat brutish climb to market dominance made Internet Explorer feel like an uninvited guest who plops himself down in your favorite seat, strips off his socks then asks you to order takeout. The Department of Justice eventually forced Microsoft to unbundle IE from Windows, but the damage was done.
From then on, no matter what Microsoft did with Internet Explorer, it would always feel like the bully trying to make amends for punching you in the face.
Chrome reality check
I use Google Chrome every day. Over the last half-decade, it’s become the browser of choice for the Web cognoscenti and developers. It’s a good browser that is constantly being made better and automatically updating. We’re already up to version 42, and it could be 43 by the time you read this.
Chrome is also, like every other browser, a complex piece of software. Just like Internet Explorer, it can eat up a lot of your system resources. Every tab you open eats up more memory. If you’re like me, you can have a couple dozen tabs open at once. Chrome appears no more adept at managing those resources than any other browser. I only know I’ve gone too far when the speed of the browser slows to a near halt.
Google’s Chrome struggles with third-party applications. The greatest offender is Adobe’s Shockwave, software that’s responsible for a lot of the multimedia you run on the web. When Shockwave fails, as it often does, the browser slows way down and a yellow bar appears at the top of Chrome telling you the Adobe software crashed.
Google would likely tell you this is Adobe’s fault, not theirs, but that’s like telling someone that the light fixture that fell on your head in the grocery store is the fault of the light manufacturer, not the store owner.
Chrome does an excellent job of giving you easy access to the settings that control and enhance your browsing experience. Those tools are way better designed in Chrome than on IE 11, but that doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to use Chrome or that it does a better job of protecting Web neophytes from unwanted add-ons.
Once every three months, I spend a couple of hours at my neighbor’s house cleaning out her Google Chrome browser. Her desktop Chrome version is usually packed with unwanted helpers, search bars and extensions. She never knows how they got there, or why Chrome didn’t do a better job of protecting her.
Ironically, I often use Internet Explorer, which she never uses, to help clean up the mess.
They can all do better
To be clear, I’m an agnostic in the browser wars. I do not hate or love either Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. I still prefer Chrome over IE, but I could easily use Explorer and still be mostly happy.
Microsoft is not launching Spartan on Windows 10 because Internet Explorer is a disaster. The company is doing so because the brand name is beyond saving. Too many people simply believe that IE is slow, unusable and unsafe.
Microsoft did its brand significant damage by loading Windows 8 with two versions of Internet Explorer, one for the desktop and one for the touch-screen “metro” interface. The latter is admittedly awful.
You can credit Google with slowly building a solid browser, and blame Microsoft for taking too long to catch up. But it is a global set of first impressions that left Microsoft with no choice but to introduce a new browser brand.
How much of Internet Explorer’s DNA is inside Spartan is anyone’s guess at the moment. But don’t begin to imagine that the death of Internet Explorer means the beginning of a perfect browser experience.