Internet Explorer’s Slow, Agonizing Death Accelerates

January 12, 2016, 3:39 PM UTC
Key Speakers At The 2015 Dell World Conference
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks during the 2015 Dell World Conference in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Too much funding and high values in the technology startup world has the industry bucking for a correction even as it fuels innovation, Nadella said. Photographer: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Matthew Busch — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dear Internet Explorer users: It’s time to move on.

Yes, you may have heard that countless times before, but it’s for real this time. Microsoft (MSFT) on Tuesday officially ended support for all Internet Explorer versions, except for Internet Explorer 11. So those who are running Internet Explorer 8, Internet Explorer 9, or Internet Explorer 10 will no longer get protection from Microsoft from malicious hackers aiming at holes in the browser’s security defenses.

In a section on its website titled “What does this mean?” in reference to Microsoft’s decision, the company was direct.

“It means you should take action,” Microsoft wrote. “After January 12, 2016, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or technical support for older versions of Internet Explorer. Security updates patch vulnerabilities that may be exploited by malware, helping to keep users and their data safer. Regular security updates help protect computers from malicious attacks, so upgrading and staying current is important.”

Microsoft putting older versions of Internet Explorer out to pasture was expected—the news was announced months ago—but it is meaningful, nonetheless. According to NetMarketShare, a company that tracks Internet browser activity around the world, at the end of December approximately 20% of computer users were still running the now-rudderless browsers. That would mean Microsoft needs to potentially move millions of people to Internet Explorer 11 or the company’s Edge browser on Windows 10 to keep them safe.

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Then again, Internet Explorer hasn’t really been safe for much of its life. Indeed, the operating system has been overrun with attacks over the years and for a long time was a source of concern in the security community. Indeed, it has not been uncommon for security experts to tell people to move to competing browsers, like Mozilla’s Firefox or Google (GOOG) Chrome, and stay away from Internet Explorer altogether.

But that was far from the browser’s only issue. Microsoft in the 1990s and early 2000s snubbed its nose at Internet standards, often causing web pages to look much different on its own browser than others’. It wasn’t until the launch of Internet Explorer 8 in 2009 that Microsoft finally caught up to the rest of the browser market and embraced traditional standards. By then, however, many users had already turned elsewhere for their browsing needs.

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Meanwhile, Internet Explorer 6 was arguably the most concerning of all the company’s browsers. Despite launching in 2001, it didn’t enter its end-of-life cycle until 2014. The reason? Companies created applications designed for the browser and stubbornly stuck to it. Microsoft had no choice but to continue to support it until 2014, when most of those firms had updated their platforms or gone to the cloud.

Even Microsoft seems obsessed with moving past the Internet Explorer era. Less than two years after it ditched Internet Explorer 6, the company has, in one fell swoop, decimated all but Internet Explorer 11. Meanwhile, it has launched a new browser in Microsoft Edge that has full support for Internet standards and feels almost nothing like Internet Explorer.

And yet, Internet Explorer still lives on. Largely due to Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer with earlier versions of Windows, many users over the years turned to it as their default browser. Though some have moved on, according to NetMarketShare, Internet Explorer is still running on nearly half of the world’s computers.

So, while Internet Explorer support may be ending and its death is undoubtedly moving along at a rapid clip, it’ll likely zombie around the Internet for years to come.

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