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Microsoft might be killing Internet Explorer, but it’s far from dead

Microsoft‘s Internet Explorer really should doff its cap and take a bow, because it has been one of the most influential pieces of code ever written even if it is the most maligned. With news that Microsoft will soon be killing the Internet Explorer brand after a long struggle with its waning brand image, we’re not quite sure if Internet Explorer will go out with a bang, or fade away like Microsoft’s other legacy headache — Windows XP.

So, what does this announcement really mean for Internet Explorer?

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Well, for one, killing the brand doesn’t necessarily mean killing the product, and certainly not immediately anyway. Internet Explorer is currently still bundled with the company’s legacy operating systems, and that includes Windows 10 pre-release builds. So will Microsoft be stripping Internet Explorer from the final RTM version of Windows 10?

Microsoft’s CMO Chris Capossela, spoke of the company’s plans at its Convergence Conference this week:

We are right now researching what the new brand, or the new name for our browser, should be in Windows 10. We will continue to have Internet Explorer, but we also have a new browser called Project Spartan, which is codenamed ‘Project Spartan,’ and we have to name the thing.

So, strictly speaking, no. Although the awesomely named “Project Spartan” browser will become Microsoft’s new flagship, the company is in no way completely removing Internet Explorer from its software boquet. This is especially true in enterprise situations, environments that are extremely stubborn to change.

If you have no idea what Project Spartan is, or how its different to Internet Explorer, have a look at Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president at Microsoft’s OS devision, explaining the primary features below:

Even if Internet Explorer is eventually scrapped from Windows 10, it will likely also remain as a download for those who require it, and will be supported long into the current decade for those who need it. As of February 2015, that global share figure sits at 8% (still going strong in China too), with Chrome and Firefox dwarfing Internet Explorer with figures of 62.5% and 22.9% respectively.

How things have changed in just a few years.

Back in 2003, Internet Explorer enjoyed close to 90% of the browser share market globally, with Mozilla Firefox (then called Phoenix) landing the first blow a year earlier and Google Chrome following suit in 2008. It was the latter that would knock both of its competitors on their face come 2015.

What was the cause of this nearly ten-fold drop in market share in just over 12 years? Well, a number of factors but primarily Microsoft’s short-sightedness.

When Mozilla Firefox (inspired by the Mozilla Suite’s bloat, ironically) launched to critical acclaim in 2004, Internet Explorer was largely unchallenged up until then. It came bundled with Windows 95 — the first iteration of Windows to feature the software — and followed that trend through into every OS since. This was largely the source of its great success, but it was also perhaps its biggest failure.

Without competition, the browser was left in limbo for much of the latter 2000s. To put this limbo into perspective, the release gap between Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7 was a massive five years, between 2001 and 2006. During this time, Windows 98 was being phased out, Windows XP enjoyed a good run and Windows Vista was spotted in the wild. Behind other doors, Firefox was building a reputation for being a slicker, more accommodating and more customisable piece of software with awesome new features like tabbed browsing support.

Users finally had an alternative, but Microsoft didn’t quite have a plan.

Internet Explorer 6 eventually turned into Microsoft’s most hated piece of software, with the company actually launching its own website to beckon the browser into extinction. Seriously, it wants IE6 dead after a time when it would refuse to launch something new, innovate or spot the obvious internet web browsing trend as speeds gradually increased and prices dropped.

When it finally released Internet Explorer 7 final, Microsoft was already tasked with playing catchup from a position of great advantage.

In 2008, Google made a push into the web browsing market with Chrome, which is now the world’s most commonly used browser. It supported and grows support for a breadth of platforms, from tablets and smartphones running Android, and other operating system environments like the Linux family and Apple‘s OS X. Internet Explorer however, couldn’t run on any of these platforms.

Microsoft still supports Internet Explorer 8, which is now nearly seven years old and even though this is a particularly bad thing in a world where new is better, it does harbour some hope for the longevity of the Microsoft’s ugly ducking.

In the northern summer, Microsoft will launch Windows 10 — its biggest OS launch since Windows XP — and will parade Project Spartan (or whatever it will be called then) as the browser that Windows deserved all along.

Spartan will span devices ranging from 4.0-inches in screen size all the way up to smart TVs, powering dual-core processors to hyperthreaded multicore behemoths and host a number of interactivity improvements, from touch and pointer compatibility to voice assistance through Cortana. It will be a major improvement over Internet Explorer and its stubborn lack of open standard support.

Read more: Microsoft’s ‘Spartan’ browser may support Google Chrome extensions

But will it be the browser to challenge the likes of Google Chrome? We’ll have to wait until Microsoft releases a Windows 10 build with Spartan bundled within, but personally, I think the company has left it a bit too late.

As for Internet Explorer… as long as Microsoft has companies and users running legacy software, Internet Explorer will continue to live, even if only just.

Feature image: kris krug via Flickr

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