It has been 10 years since IE 4, the most hideous web browser of all time, was released. Much has changed since then. Much has remained the same. And in the years that have passed it seems that the world has forgotten what this was all about.
Why was IE 4 so insanely evil?
Internet Explorer version 4 represented Microsoft's sudden and desperate efforts to push Netscape out of the market. IE 4 is an example of what happens when you let marketing make software design decisions.
To put it simply, Microsoft tried to make IE do a bunch of stuff that web browsers should never do, and then shoved it down our throats.
Specific evildoings included:
Why did I hate it so much?
People often misunderstand why I hate IE.
I did not object to MS writing or selling a browser. I didn't even object to including one with their OS. What I objected to was how they made that half-assed piece of junk mandatory.
I practically live "in cyberspace" so when this unwanted piece of software tried to repeatedly force its way in to MY personal domain, it made me angry. And I took it personally.
Back in 1998 I was so mad I halfway seriously thought about driving up to Redmond and kicking Bill Gates in the nuts. Fortunately I decided not to, and made a web site about it instead.
Netscape had it's flaws, but when Netscape got hosed up the most I would ever need to do was delete the profile folder, uninstall Netscape and then re-install it. IE problems usually involved re-formatting.
And IE's security? What security?! Bill's sitting there going "weeeee don't need no stenkin' security!" Sure, all significantly complex applications have security problems. That will never change. But with IE 3/4/5 we were not talking about buffer overflows with injected assembler code, we were talking about browser features that INTENTIONALLY let programmers do whatever they wanted.
Remember, around this time people had started going on, and on, and on about how web browsers could be used as an "application platform" that would make operating systems obsolete. (and they still haven't shut up about this retarded idea!!!!). Drawing from their compiler and OS background MS added features intended to be "programmer friendly" and actively encouraged people to use them. But they were completely oblivious to the potential for abuse. Visit the wrong web site and your hard drive is re-formatted. And did I mention you were forced to have this piece of software installed?
In comparison Netscape was infinitely more "secure" simply because it more or less stuck to doing what a web browser should do - retrieve and display documents.
What was done about IE?
After 20 states sued Microsoft, the DOJ found Microsoft guilty of abusing their OS monopoly. But Microsoft got off with just a slap on the wrist.
Once Netscape was dead and buried Microsoft basically left IE to rot.
Thankfully Firefox, Opera, and Safari have
not only stayed alive but stayed ahead of IE, providing an excellent array
of choices for Web technology.
WorldWideWeb browser released. More...
Netscape 1.0 released. More...
Netscape 3.0 released. More...
IE 3 released. Componitized rewrite. More...
Netscape 4 released - kind of buggy. More...
AOL buys netscape More...
|Windows 98 bundles IE 4 "unremovably". More...||
Netscape releases source code. More...
IE 5 released - IE ahead of Netscape. More...
|(many development / beta releases follow)|
June 7, 2000: Microsoft found GUILTY of illegally abusing monopoly.More...
IE 5 for Mac released More...
AOL client for Mac released using Mozilla Gecko. And a "beta" for Windows. More...
|July 15, 2003, AOL announces shutdown of Netscape browser division. More...||(IE 6 stagnates.)||
Microsoft abandons IE 5 for Mac. More...
September 2005: Version 8.5 released - no more banner adds, and free of charge. More...
Safari for Windows beta released. More...
October 29, 1969: The Internet Created
The first bits of information were sent over what would grow in to the Internet as we know it. The ultimate goal: Exchange of pornography. :)
(For those that don't
know, numerous other methods of moving information around over the Internet
existed prior to the advent of "the web")
Tim Berners-Lee released the first web browser, initially named "World Wide Web".
A wide variety of independently written
browser implementations based on this spring up.
NCSA Mosaic Released. Of a number of noncommercial (free) browsers of the time, Mosaic became the most popular. It was later licensed, for a fee, for use in commercial products.
Netscape 1.0, the first commercial browser was released. It was licensed for personal and non-profit use at no cost, but companies were expected to pay for a license.
The floppy disk version of Windows 95 did not include a web browser.
The CD version included IE as a mandatory program.
At this point, both IE 1 and Netscape 1 were very limited in what they could do. The web was not yet important to most people but the buzz about "the web" was growing. IE 2, updates to Netscape 1, and Netscape 2 were released but were basically more of the same.
As there was a wide diversity of operating systems, cross platform ability was very important. These early versions of Netscape were available for Microsoft Windows 16 and 32 bit, MacOS, HP-UX, Solaris, IBM OS/2, and the new kid on the block, "Linux".
In comparison, IE was released only for Windows 16 and 32 bit, and MacOS. (A half assed HP-UX and Solaris version was released around the time of IE 5)
Somewhere in here, Microsoft started offering IE for download for "free". "Free" meaning the actual costs came out of sales of Windows and MS-Office. (which caused some interesting problems with the folks Microsoft was licensing Mosaic from as this kept them from earning per-copy revenue as per the license deal)
Most of the less common browser began to die out as Netscape and IE became more popular.
For the longest time Netscape 3's rendering ability (HTML 3) was considered the defacto minimum level of compatibility for web sites and browsers.
This was also the first version to bundle
Sun's Java which enabled real programs to run within the browser across
Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 released. Unlike IE 1 and 2 that were basically just rebranded versions of Mosaic, IE 3 was a Componitized rewrite. This introduced the ability for other Windows applications to embed the browser, use its networking library, or programmatically call other components. This was also the first version to enable Win32 binaries (AKA OLE Embedded controls, AKA ActiveX) to automatically download and run within the Windows 95/NT version of IE.
Keep in mind that Microsoft's core competency is/was providing programming languages and tools for programmers to use. To them this all seemed like a great idea and they did not consider the consequences.
This is also when the "browser war" was really starting to heat up so everyone was rushing in to things quickly.
Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2 (OSR2)
was updated to bundle IE 3. OSR2 was mainly only licensed to computer manufacturers,
so while this appeared on most new computers, the boxed retail version
of Windows 95 continued to include IE 1.
Also in 1996:
Opera 2.0, the first version available to the public, was released. Opera was commercial software and not distributed for "free". Licenses had to be purchased after a maximum 30 day trial period.
Rendering wise IE 3 and Netscape 3 were roughly equivalent. But IE 3 being a completely new rewrite was much buggier than Netscape. Netscape 3, being based directly on Netscape 1 and 2 (and not going feature wild yet) was relatively solid and stable.
Netscape was still vastly more popular, but now Microsoft was doing everything they could to kill it.
At one point in 1996 after Compaq removed the MSN and Internet Explorer icons from the desktops on their Presarios to instead promote AOL and Netscape Navigator, Microsoft sent Compaq a letter stating its intention to terminate Compaq's license for Windows 95 if Compaq did not restore the MSN and Internet Explorer icons to their original positions. (From DOJ Finding of fact 206)
It included a variety of rendering enhancements such as initial CSS implementation and a slightly revised user interface. It included Netcaster, Mail, Composer, and bundled a number of applications.
The initial release was a little buggy
and was a memory hog on computers of the time compared to Netscape 3.
Netscape announced an initiative to form many "industry partners" to bundle the Navigator browser with products.
Apple was forced to bundle IE for Mac as the default browser instead of Netscape. Otherwise Microsoft would not continue to produce MS-Office for the mac. Steve Jobs is BOOED as he announces IE will be the default browser.
Internet Explorer 4 was released. It was evil! EEEEEVIIIIIIIIL!!!!! (Have I mentioned that already?)
Microsoft pushed hard, and succeeded, to get IE 4 included with every piece of software in the universe, and used programmatically regardless if it made sense or not.
For 95 and NT 4 Microsoft included a "shell update" that used IE as the file browser. Installing this had the effect of loading IE at startup and keeping it in memory. IE would start up much quicker while other browsers would start up slower due to the reduced amount of memory available to them. And IE 4 took up quite a bit more memory than IE 3.
Installing IE 4 also took the liberty of altering/updating other Windows system files, which often caused problems.
In IE 3 the only place the "e" logo appeared was in the browsers throbber. IE 4 took a branding initiative and put the logo in all kinds of places, many inappropriate.
It was made clear they would bundle this unremovably with their next version of Windows.
Rendering wise, IE 4 and Netscape 4 diverged and each went their own directions, adding their own proprietary rendering extensions. This made them roughly "different but equal". This increased the problems with sites that would only work in IE or only work in Netscape. Some would say that IE 4 was closer to "standards", but that is only because history favors the winner. Many of Microsoft's proprietary extensions eventually became "standard" while Netscape's proprietary extensions died off.
At the end of 1997 it seems Netscape was really panicking. With Microsoft preventing them from earning revenue from their browser software, they were already relying on other products such as their server software for profits and they turned Netscape.com in to a news/chat web site. It was already well known what Windows 98 was going to do.
Netscape assists in development of the new browser, code named "Mozilla" with the intention to use Mozilla as the core of the next Netscape browser.
May 18, 1998:
The US Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general file an antitrust case against Microsoft.
Windows 98 released. It bundles IE 4 "unremovably" and is the first version of windows to include only the "enhanced" IE desktop shell.
It is important to note that Windows 95, during installation, gave users the choice to select either the Win95 desktop shell or the Win3.1 program manager shell. No such option to use a different shell was included in Windows 98.
Microsoft claimed it was impossible to
remove Internet Explorer as it was "integrated" in to the operating system.
November 22, 1998:
Shane Brooks released 98lite that could, in fact, remove IE 4 from Windows 98 and gave users the option to use the lighter weight and more responsive Windows 95 desktop shell on 98.
October 27, 1998
Some Guy gets tired of posting rants to alt.destroy.microsoft and sets up his own web site telling the world how evil IE is.
October 19, 1998:
Netscape Communicator 4.5 released.
There was nothing really significant different
in this release over 4.0x other than the version number bump. This was
just a minor update and not based on the new Mozilla work. Netscape communicator
4.xx continued to receive minor updates until 2002 at version 4.80.
AOL buys out Netscape. Netscape, the company, becomes the Netscape Communications Division of AOL.
Initially there were many negative concerns
about the merger, but over the next few years this merger seemed to be
beneficial to the development of the Mozilla/Netscape browser.
IE 5 released.
Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 was vastly cleaned up and dropped some of the crazy stuff that IE 4 had added. IE 5 was bundled with Windows 98SE and Windows 2000 (NT 5). A slight revision, IE 5.5 was later bundled with Windows ME.
Some had already said that IE usage had exceeded that of Netscape, but at this point Microsoft was simply ahead of the Netscape browser.
IE 5 for Mac was based on different code
than IE for windows. In some ways IE 5 for the Mac was more advanced than
the Windows version, but it did things differently enough that often pages
that worked on IE 5 for Windows would not work the same on the Mac version.
June 7, 2000:
Microsoft found GUILTY of illegally abusing their monopoly.
Sadly when the "remedies" are eventually
announced they fall short of what is needed and amount to a slap on the
wrist for Microsoft.
Netscape 6.0 released.
Panicking because Netscape 4.x was showing its age, Netscape released version 6.0 based on an early build of Mozilla.
Unfortunately it really wasn't ready for average use yet. Netscape 6.0 was very, very, slow and very buggy compared to IE, Netscape 4.x, or even the version of Mozilla it was based on.
Many web sites quickly turned their noses up at Netscape 6 and said they would not or could not support it.
The bump to "6.0" was to prevent confusion
over early development of "Netscape 5.0" based directly on Netscape 4 where
as this one used a newly rewritten rendering engine.
December , 2000:
Opera 5.0 released:
In a major change from previous versions, Opera usage was no longer limited to a 30 day trial period. Instead it became "ad sponsored" by displaying banner ads until you purchased a license. This opened up the door for more people to use it even if they would not or could not pay for it directly.
Many people felt that Netscape had shot themselves in the foot by releasing version 6.0 it its buggy state.
Mozilla and Netscape 6 dropped some of the proprietary Netscape 4 rendering extensions, and many more sites were designing only for IE, creating an additional barrier.
Netscape 6 was eventually updated with versions 6.1 and 6.2x based on newer Mozilla pre-releases that fixed many of the problems.
Opera was slowly finding a niche for itself as it was much lighter weight and faster than IE or Netscape while providing much of the same rendering ability.
Not really a huge difference over IE 5.x besides a shiner icon. This version was mainly released for bundling with Windows XP.
At this point Microsoft essentially stopped
development IE. The "service packs" and updates released mainly addressed
numerous minor bug fixes and security issues. It would be a number of years
later before Microsoft would pick up any real development again as other
browsers began to threaten them.
June 5, 2002:
Mozilla 1.0 released.
With great fanfare the first official stable version of the open source Mozilla (suite) web browser was released.
Mozilla 1.0 was a stable, cross platform
browser with the most advanced rendering engine of it's time. Unlike other
browsers it included a pop-up blocker.
Netscape 7 released.
Netscape 7 was based on the Mozilla 1.0 browser, but like Netscape 6 was bundled with additional software.
About the same time AOL released the AOL client for Mac using the same rendering engine.
A similar "beta" of the AOL client for Windows was also made available, but a final version was never released. Because of AOLs popularity AOL was simply using this as leverage to continue AOL bundling with Microsoft.
At this point Mozilla was technologically significantly ahead of IE 6.
For some reason, possibly because they were afraid of retribution from advertising companies, Netscape disabled the new pop up blocker from Mozilla in the initial release, but this was quickly changed in an update.
Of course by this time IE was dominant but the Netscape name still held some weight with some people.
Overall Netscape 7.0 was considered a very good release, however by this time more people were choosing Mozilla itself over Netscape.
AOL had used Netscape and the AOL clients with Mozilla's rendering engine as leverage to get better terms on a 7 year deal with Microsoft to use IE as the engine for their client. Now that they were done with them they discarded Netscape like a used paper cup.
The same day the non-profit Mozilla Foundation
June 30, 2003:
Netscape 7.1 released, based on Mozilla 1.4.
Days afterwards the Netscape Communications
Division is dismantled. It is widely presumed that this will be the last
June 16, 2003:
The last minor update to IE 5 for Mac OS X is released. Microsoft made it clear that there would be no future versions of IE for Mac. (The failure to release IE 6 for the Mac had already made this obvious)
June 23, 2003:
Apple announces and releases Safari 1.0 for Mac OS X.
The rendering engine was based on that of the lesser known open source Konqueror browser for Linux. This rendering engine was much faster and a much cleaner design and implementation than any other browser (and obviously appealed to Steve Job's sense of perfection)
A few months later MacOS X 10.3 was released with Safari as the default browser.
Microsoft, seeing that their former competition is now completely dead lets IE 6 stagnate. IE for platforms other than Windows XP is dropped.
Despite the demise of the Netscape company, the development of the Mozilla browser chugs right along and grows in popularity.
Apparently AOL contracted with former Netscape employees to create this. It was based on Mozilla 1.7, and was primarily intended to bring in advertising revenue.
The release of this version was met with
November 9, 2004:
Firefox 1.0 released.
With great fanfare Firefox 1.0 was released and people started taking back the web!!!!!!!
The goal of Firefox was to produce a smaller, lighter weight browser than the Mozilla suite. To that end Firefox was just the browser and did not include a mail component or HTML editor.
Steve Balmer throws chairs and vows to "fucking kill Google" (allegedly)
At this point IE was becoming a cesspool for spyware, malware, and viruses.
Netscape 7.2 was a decent release, primarily because it was just a rebranded version of Mozilla 1.7.
Firefox 1.0 also used the same rendering engine as Mozilla 1.7. The main change was the UI and the branding. Mozilla.org also changed focus to emphasize promotion of Firefox.
This version was developed by outside contractors, or perhaps their marketing department.
Netscape 8 was based on Firefox and included
an arguably ugly new appearance. It was for Windows only and also requires
IE to be installed. It included a feature that would permit sites to render
using IE inside of Netscape.
Opera Version 8.5 released - no more banner adds, and free of charge.
November 29, 2005
Firefox 1.5 released.
Lots of all-round improvements, rendering engine improvements, adds ability to render SVG.
October 24, 2006
Firefox 2 released.
Includes phishing detection and a built in form field spell checker. Uses the same rendering engine as 1.5, as Firefox 3 is already well in the works.
October 18, 2006
Microsoft blew the dust off of IE to release IE 7.
With Firefox gaining popularity, Microsoft re-arranged the user interface, threw in tabbed browsing, and made a handful of fixes to it's rendering ability.
Because Microsoft had let IE go without
any significant development for so long it was still nowhere up to par
with Firefox, Opera, or Safari. Besides, like the old saying goes "You
can't polish a turd".
June 11, 2007
The first Safari beta for Windows released.
Up until now Safari had been exclusively for the Apple Macintosh.
Technologically Firefox, Opera, and Safari are all light-years ahead of IE 7. Because of the usual reasons of IE being bundled unremovably with Windows, IE still has the majority of usage in most places but it is slipping. Surprisingly the ancient IE 6 browser is still being used by more than half of those using IE, even after Microsoft pushed IE 7 out as a "critical update" for Windows XP.
It seems Microsoft is getting bitten by their browser "integration" as well as their complacency since the release of IE 6. One of the reasons that people, especially companies, are not wanting to upgrade to Vista is that many of their web apps do not work, or are not "certified" with IE 7.
Since IE 6 was out for so long without any rendering changes, people found it more convenient to develop for than browsers with more frequent releases and changes and got tied in to it. Now all of a sudden IE 6 can not be run on Vista. The only officially Microsoft "supported" way to do that that is running Windows XP and IE 6 in Virtual PC!
If these companies had the foresight to make their apps all work in Firefox then it wouldn't mater at all what OS they were running. But nobody ever listens to me....
Most Linux distributions these days have the right idea. They have one HTML renderer for local content such as help files and a separate browser for actually browsing the web. You can rip out and replace the regular browser without causing any problems with the OS.
ActiveX is dead. Actually the whole idea of running any old application "inside a web browser" is dead. Some people keep insisting on beating that horse though. If you do need a way to run an application like that, the answer is Java. Although that doesn't ship with any major browser any more. That is included with MacOS X, but not Windows - Microsoft wants you to use "Dot Net".
Netscape is dead. AOL murdered it. AOL is holding up a sock puppet with a "Netscape" nametag. That ain't it.
Well, I think Microsoft is going to try harder to push their own corporate web apps that only work or only work fully with IE. Those can easily keep business locked in.
For good or for worse the web is still evolving. People are finding new things to do with it, and they will gladly try to sell it to management.
I don't see Microsoft updating their web browser again in the immediate future. They will wait until something comes along that needs squashing.
As for the browser war itself, IE and other browsers still do things differently. If the web could get to a point where it never mattered what browser you were using then we would all be winners.
March 1st, 2008
AOL ends Netscape support completely. There are no further updates, and the download page recommended downloading a different browser. Seemed a little soon since they had just released Netscape 9.
June 17th, 2008
Firefox 3 Released. This release represents the release of much work that had been in progress for quite some time. This version drops the ability to run on Windows 9x, ME, and NT 4.
September 2nd, 2008
Google releases its own web browser called "Chrome". Chrome, like Safari, is based on the Konquer rendering engine.
March 20, 2009
IE 8 released. (And Microsoft declares IE 8 the "end of the Internet")
June 30th 2009
Firefox 3.5 released. The big thing in this release was a built-in video player and codec.
Microsoft prepares "Windows 7e", a European version of Windows 7 that they claim does not include Internet Explorer (in actuality the only piece removed is the small IEXPLORE.EXE loader). This is done to address EU antitrust concerns. Seemingly at the last minute they decide to ship regular Windows 7 to European countries.
Microsoft pushes out a "Browser Ballot" to European users as part of an EU legal agreement.
March 15, 2011
Microsoft releases IE 9. This version drops the ability to run on Windows XP, which is still widely in use. Meanwhile Firefox 4 can run on MacOS X, Linux, Windows 2000, and even OS/2! Unofficially Firefox 4 can even run under Windows 98 with the "KernelEx" kernel extender, and TenFourFox picks up the support for PPC Macs under 10.4/10.5 which Mozilla officially dropped.
June 21, 2011
Mozilla releases Firefox "5" immediately after the release of Firefox 4 as part of a new "rapid release" initiative. Many users are in an uproar over the new short End Of Life cycle plus some unwelcome user interface changes.
January 11, 2012
Now at Firefox version 9, Mozilla.org announces a planned "enterprise" release to satisfy people who need stable software releases that are supported longer than 5 seconds.
Opera drops their unique Presto rendering engine in favor of WebKit, the engine used by Safari and Chrome.
July 29, 2015 Microsoft releases their "Edge" web browser on Windows 10.
2020: Microsoft replaces their home-grown "Edge" browser rendering engine with that of Google Chrome.
August, 2020: Mozilla lays off 250 employees. It remains to be seen what the results of this will be.
June 15, 2022: Microsoft officially
"retires" Internet Explorer in Windows 10. But its rendering engine is
still used by Edge's "IE Compatibility Mode" and programs that embed it,
so it is not gone.
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