After 27 years, Microsoft has finally said goodbye to the Internet Explorer web browser and will redirect Explorer users to the latest version of its Edge browser.
Effective June 15, Microsoft ended support for Explorer on several versions of Windows 10 – meaning no more productivity, reliability, or security updates. Explorer will remain a working browser, but will not be protected if new threats emerge.
Twenty-seven years is a long time in computer science. Many would say that this step is long overdue. Explorer has long outperformed its competitors, and years of poor user experience have made it the butt of many Internet jokes.
How it started?
Explorer was first introduced in 1995 by Microsoft Corporation and bundled with the Windows operating system.
To its credit, Explorer has introduced many Windows users to the joys of the Internet for the first time. After all, it wasn’t until 1993 that Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web, released the first public web browser (aptly called WorldWideWeb).
By providing Explorer as the default browser, much of Windows’ global user base would experience no alternative. But this came at a price, and Microsoft ended up facing multiple antitrust investigations to investigate its monopoly in the browser market.
Despite a number of other browsers around (including Netscape Navigator, which predates Explorer), Explorer remained the default choice for millions of people until about 2002, when Firefox was launched.
How it ended?
Microsoft has released 11 versions of Explorer (with many minor revisions along the way). It added different functionality and components with each release. Despite this, it lost consumer confidence because of Explorer’s “legacy architecture” which was accompanied by poor design and slowness.
It seems that Microsoft was so comfortable with its monopoly that it let the quality of its product slip just as other competitors entered the battlefield.
Even if you just look at the cosmetic interface (what you see and interact with when you visit a website), Explorer was unable to provide users with the authentic experience of modern websites.
In terms of security, Explorer had many vulnerabilities, which cybercriminals could easily and successfully exploit.
While Microsoft has patched many of these vulnerabilities in different versions of the browser, the underlying architecture is still considered vulnerable by security experts. Microsoft itself acknowledged this:
† [Explorer] is still based on technology that is 25 years old. It is an outdated browser that is architecturally outdated and incapable of meeting the security challenges of the modern web.
These concerns have led the United States Department of Homeland Security to repeatedly advise Internet users not to use Explorer.
Explorer’s failure to win over the modern audience is further evident in Microsoft’s continued efforts to push users to Edge. Edge was first introduced in 2015, and since then Explorer has only been used as a compatibility solution.
What was Explorer up to?
In terms of market share, more than 64% of browser users currently use Chrome. Explorer has dropped to less than 1% and even Edge only represents about 4% of users. What has given Chrome such an edge in the browser market?
Chrome was first introduced by Google in 2008, on the open-source Chromium project, and has been actively developed and supported ever since.
Being open-source means that the software is publicly available and anyone can inspect the source code behind it. Individuals can even contribute to the source code, improving software productivity, reliability, and security. This was never an option with Explorer.
Plus, Chrome is multi-platform: it can be used in other operating systems like Linux, MacOS, and on mobile devices, and supported a range of systems long before Edge was even released.
Meanwhile, Explorer is mainly limited to Windows, Xbox, and a few versions of MacOS.
Under the hood
Microsoft’s Edge browser uses the same Chromium open source code that Chrome has used since its inception. This is encouraging, but it remains to be seen how Edge will compete with Chrome and other browsers to gain users’ trust.
We wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft fails to encourage customers to use Edge as their browser of choice. The latest stats suggest that Edge is still far behind Chrome in terms of market share.
The fact that Microsoft took seven years to retire Explorer after the initial release of Edge also suggests that the company hasn’t had much success launching Edge.
Web browsers play a vital role in creating privacy and security for users. Design and convenience are important factors for users when choosing a browser. So in the end, the browser that can most effectively balance security and ease of use will win users over.
And it’s hard to say if Chrome’s current popularity will last over time. Google will no doubt want it to continue, as web browsers are major revenue streams.
But Google as a business is becoming less and less popular due to massive data collection and intrusive advertising practices. Chrome is an important part of Google’s data collection engine, so it’s possible that users are slowly turning away.
As for what to do with Explorer (if you’re one of the few people who still have it meekly on your desktop) – just uninstall it to avoid security risks.
Even if you don’t use Explorer, installing it can pose a threat to your device. No one wants to be the victim of a dead browser cyber attack!
This article by Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lecturer in Computing & Security, Edith Cowan University; M. Imran Malik, Cyber Security Researcher, Edith Cowan University, and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Professor of Cyber Security Practice, Edith Cowan University, have been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.