A visual history of Microsoft's Internet Explorer

The rise and demise of Internet Explorer, the once-dominant web browser.

iehistory primary


Microsoft confirmed this week that it will be killing the Internet Explorer brand in favor of a new web browser in Windows 10. The IE replacement is currently referred to as "Project Spartan," though it will likely get a different name before it launches.

Although Internet Explorer has been either mocked or ignored by most in the tech world over the past few years, it also played a pivotal role in the early days of the web, and due to Windows' massive market share, remains in use on a global scale. Here is a look back at the rise and demise of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

internet explorer 1.0
Used with permission from Microsoft

1995: Microsoft Internet Explorer (or Internet Explorer 1)

Internet Explorer 1 was the result of a licensing agreement between Microsoft and Spyglass, the small company behind the Mosaic web browser. Eric Sink, a Spyglass developer who helped build the original Mosaic web browser, wrote in a blog post that agreement came amid intense competition between Spyglass and Netscape:

"Licensing our browser was a huge win for Spyglass. And it was a huge loss. We got a loud wake-up call when we tried to schedule our second conference for our OEM browser customers. Our customers told us they weren't coming because Microsoft was beating them up. The message became clear: We sold our browser technology to 120 companies, but one of them slaughtered the other 119."

internet explorer 2
Used with permission from Microsoft

1995: Internet Explorer 2 emulates Netscape Navigator

Just a few months after Internet Explorer 1, Microsoft released version 2.0 in November 1995, this time attempting to replicate some of the features and design aspects that had made Netscape Navigator so popular. Many early websites were developed only for compatibility with Navigator, which held nearly 90% of the market by 1996. Microsoft had to embrace Netscape's market in order to overtake it. This meant designing IE 2.0 to import bookmarks from Netscape and supporting its HTML features so webpages looked as close to identical on each browser as possible. IE 2.0 was also the first version made available for the Mac OS, although not until six months after it was launched for Windows.

internet explorer 3.0

1996: Internet Explorer 3 finally gains momentum

Released in August 1996, IE 3.0 was the first version of Microsoft's web browser that really challenged Netscape Navigator. To do so, Microsoft reverse-engineered JavaScript to create a different version called Jscript for IE, and also designed it to supported ActiveX, plugins and 128-bit encryption for some versions. Although IE 3.0 abandoned the Spyglass source code it used for its two earlier versions, it still used some Spyglass technology, and later found itself embroiled in a lawsuit with the company over royalties, for which Microsoft paid Spyglass $8 million.

internet explorer 4.0

1997: Internet Explorer 4.0 starts a war, attracts more lawsuits

When Microsoft launched Internet Explorer 4.0 in October 1997, the IE team celebrated by moving a 10-foot-tall "e" statue – the IE logo – from its launch party to the front lawn of the Netscape offices, where Netscape employees promptly tipped it over and topped it with a Mozilla statue. The launch of IE 4.0 is largely considered the beginning of the First Browser War, and was a turning point for Microsoft. By integrating IE functionality with Windows, Microsoft gained an edge on Navigator and boosted its market share. But it also led it on a path to the infamous 2001 antitrust lawsuit, United States v. Microsoft.

internet explorer 5
Used with permission from Microsoft

1999: Internet Explorer 5.0 takes over the world

Internet Explorer 5 was released in March 1999 after a developer preview in June and a public preview in November of the previous year, and was later bundled with the release of Windows 98 Second Edition in September 1999. With IE 5.0, Microsoft introduced XMLHttpRequest (XHR) and HTML Application (HTA). By the time Microsoft upgraded to version 6.0, IE 5 had exceeded 80% of the web browser market share, thanks largely to its integration with Windows.

internet explorer 6
Used with permission from Microsoft

2001: Internet Explorer 6.0 listed among 'worst tech products of all time'

Internet Explorer 6 shipped with both Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, launching it to nearly 90% market share by 2002. However, IE 6 is mostly remembered for its security failings, which were mostly by design. By 2004, US-CERT issued a vulnerability report that said IE's combined vulnerabilities and deep integration with Windows made it a severe liability, while several other security experts urged users not to use it. By 2006, PC World rated IE 6 the eighth-worst tech product of all time, claiming that it "might be the least secure software on the planet." It was also the last version named "Microsoft Internet Explorer," a result of the antitrust case against the company.

internet explorer 7
Used with permission from Microsoft

2006: Windows Internet Explorer 7 is finally released

More than five years after version 6 was released, Windows Internet Explorer 7 was released as the default browser for Windows Vista, and it could also replace IE 6 on Windows XP. IE 7 introduced 256-bit encryption (for Vista users) and the Windows RSS Platform. Microsoft aimed to improve security in its browser by designing ActiveX control to run its own process in IE 7, rather than be hosted in Windows Explorer process. Perhaps because of the long time between new versions, IE 7 struggled to keep up with even IE 6 in terms of market share, and opened the door for Mozilla Firefox to compete.

internet explorer 8
Used with permission from Microsoft

2009: Internet Explorer 8 shows some improvements, but not enough

Largely considered an improvement on the two prior versions of Internet Explorer, IE 8 was still too late to the market to make up for the ground Microsoft had lost to competitors, chiefly Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. IE8 introduced new developer tools and features like accelerators and suggested sites, and improved performance and stability by correcting some of the problems of its predecessor. However, Internet Explorer 8 still couldn't get Microsoft back into the browser race.

2011: Internet Explorer 9 and the last big push for relevance

With Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft changed the user interface and focused on HTML 5, CSS3, XHTML, and other performance aspects to help reverse course on its former market-leading web browser. The company released IE 9 on its own, without an accompanying operating system, and promoted it heavily with a series of epic, high-budget TV commercials and a Tumblr site that poked fun at IE's negative image. Reviewers largely deemed IE 9 to be technologically on-par with Firefox and Chrome, although it never really disrupted the market the way Microsoft had hoped.

internet explorer 10
Used with permission from Microsoft

2012: Internet Explorer 10, the Windows 8 browser

Designed only to run on Windows 8, Internet Explorer 10 was available in two separate editions: a Metro app designed to leverage Windows 8's touch-centric display and which came without plug-in support, and a more traditional desktop version that supported plug-ins. IE 10 introduced a built-in Adobe Flash Player, although some Flash features were omitted from the Metro app to avoid drain on mobile devices' battery life. The reception for Internet Explorer 10 was generally lukewarm among reviewers, although that may have been partly due to the general disdain for Windows 8 as a whole.

internet explorer 11
Used with permission from Microsoft

2013: Internet Explorer 11, the final edition

What would ultimately become the final Windows web browser with the name "Internet Explorer" was released with Windows 8.1, and reportedly performed well in at least one test. Writing at SitePoint, Craig Buckler deemed IE 11's performance to be at least on-par with both Chrome and Firefox, and although its compatibility still lagged behind the others, its features were comparable.

project spartan

What to expect with Project Spartan

Although Microsoft is still unclear on what its new browser, currently codenamed "Project Spartan," will be called when it is released, some details have emerged already. At a Windows 10 event in January, Microsoft announced several new features: integration with Cortana, the speech-recognition tool available on Windows Phone; the ability to annotate web pages within the browser and share those notes with other people; and new tools for reading text on a webpage. The browser is based on a new rendering engine and is designed for interoperability across all kinds of devices, from smartphones to desktop PCs.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.