As Internet Explorer Turns 15, We Take A Look Back

Internet Explorer celebrates its 15th birthday this week. We look back at the browser's varied past.

Microsoft Internet Explorer marks its 15th anniversary this week. The first version of the browser was launched back in the summer of 1995 and since then the browser--now in its eighth rendition--has undergone numerous updates, revisions and versions.

IE went on to become extremely popular, largely thanks to its deep integration as part of Windows. Within just a few short years, Internet Explorer dominated the browser wars, claiming as much as 95% market share, mainly at the expense of competitor Netscape Navigator.

However, IE's rise did not continue forever. In 2004, Mozilla launched an open-source alternative, Firefox. As the years went by, Firefox slowly chipped away at IE's market share.

Today, the browser landscape is a very different one, with Chrome, Safari, Opera and many others all competing for a slice of users' Web time. But despite the range of choices, IE is--like it or not--still the world's most popular browser holding a combined market share of over 60%.

Let's look back over the browser's past, and look ahead at where it's headed:

Internet Explorer 1

Internet Explorer 1 launched on August 16, 1995. Based on Spyglass Inc.'s Mosaic browser, version one of IE was built by a team of just five or six programmers and came in at just under 1MB. While IE wasn't initially included in the OEM version of Windows 95, it came bundled with Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95.

Internet Explorer 2

Released just three months after the first version; IE 2 arrived on November 22, 1995, with versions for Windows NT, Windows 95 and Windows 3.1. Microsoft released a beta version for PowerPC-based Macs in January of 1996. IE 2 added support for HTML tables and cookies--a quaint notion in today's HTML5 world.

IE 2's executable size? A whole 1.1MB.

Internet Explorer 3

Microsoft launched IE 3 in August 1996 for Windows PCs. Version 3 saw the introduction of the blue 'e' logo that is now synonymous with Internet Explorer. IE 3 came to the Mac in January 1997; version 3.01 of IE later became the default browser on Macs. It was the first mainstream browser to support cascading style sheets (CSS). IE 2 also included an e-mail client known as Internet Mail & News (which eventually became Outlook Express), and added support for GIF and JPEG images.

It could also play MIDI audio files, marking the birth of websites with annoying auto-playing sound files.

Internet Explorer 4

Microsoft released IE 4 during September of 1997. Bundled with Windows 98; Microsoft marketed it with the tag-line "The web the way you want it," and added more new features, such as support for favicons. As part of the San Francisco launch event, Microsoft planted a giant blue 'e' on Netscape's front lawn. The browser wars were on!

Internet Explorer also made its debut on Sun Microsystem's Unix OS Solaris in 1998.

Internet Explorer 5

Microsoft's fifth version of IE arrived in March of 1999, introducing a selection of new features. Microsoft added Compatibility Mode for testing purposes, and bi-directional text support was also added--an important feature for many international users. New search, history and favorite features were also included.

IE5 carried a download size of 37MB for 32-bit PCs, and as of March 2000, Internet Explorer 5 had a market share of over 50%.

Internet Explorer 6

August 2001 saw the release of IE 6, ready for the debut of Windows XP. By late 2003 Internet Explorer accounted for around 90% of the browser market, thanks in part to IE 6's success. But despite its success in the market, IE 6 was universally slammed for its poor security features--a reputation Internet Explorer still carries to this day. The browser added a number of new features, and it also gained a pop-up blocker with its second service pack.

Now nearly a decade old, IE 6 still has a market share of nearly 17%.

Internet Explorer 7

After nearly six years since the initial release of IE6, in 2006 Microsoft finally graced users with a new version of their browser--IE7. During this gap between releases, Mozilla had released Firefox, and many features seen in Firefox made their way into IE7.

The browser, which was available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, brought tabbed browsing to IE,and introduced page zooming, a separate search bar, and support for RSS. For this release the browser was renamed, make a subtle change from Microsoft Internet Explorer to Windows Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer 8

Version eight saw a general release in March of 2009, it is the default browser for Windows 7 and is the latest available version, coming with support for up-to 63 different languages.

Microsoft detailed that improvements to CSS and Ajax handling were a priority. The new browser also saw the introduction of a private browsing mode, which makes browsing history hard to find. Other browsers offered a similar feature, Microsoft's is called InPrivate browsing.

A new feature known as Accelerators also debuted, offering access to additional Web information for any highlighted text.

What's next....

Microsoft's next browser, Internet Explorer 9, is due to enter beta next month. IE9 promises to have better support for new web standards, such as CSS3, HTML5 and more.

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Chris Brandrick

PC World (US online)
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