Tech history: The first iteration of Internet Explorer

On 16 August 1995, Microsoft introduced the first Internet Explorer.

16 August 1995: Microsoft introduces Internet Explorer


Internet Explorer was once the giant of web browsers – not the first, but certainly the most popular and for some considerable time. Of course, things change, a lot, and IE was not allowed to remain dominant for long, but in the beginning…

Internet Explorer’s story began in 1995, when Microsoft licensed Mosaic from Spyglass.


The beginning of Internet Explorer

The original Mosaic came from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which relied on Spyglass as its commercial licensing partner because it’s a public entity. Spyglass delivered two versions of the Mosaic browser to Microsoft - one wholly based on the NCSA source code, and another – which was would become the basis for Internet Explorer - engineered from scratch but conceptually modelled on the NCSA browser. Microsoft’s modified version of the browser - which could render basic HTML but not much more – was released in two packages: the Microsoft Plus! add-on for Windows 95 and via the simultaneous OEM release of Windows 95.

The license agreement between Spyglass and Microsoft stipulated that Spyglass would receive a base quarterly fee for the Mosaic license plus a royalty for each copy of Explorer issued. By bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, Microsoft was making no direct revenues on the software, technically enabling them to pay only the minimum quarterly fee. Not surprisingly, Spyglass weren’t happy, and in 1997, threatened to audit Microsoft to find out exactly how many copies of Explorer have been distributed. Microsoft settled for US$8 million.

Spyglass is acknowledged as licensor for the IE browser code in all versions of Internet Explorer prior to Internet Explorer 7 (released 18 October 2006) with the text, “Distributed under a licensing agreement with Spyglass, Inc.” included on the ‘About’ window.


IE’s changeable market adoption

In the 1990s, the main battle for dominance was between Netscape, the dominant browser in the Nineties, and IE. This ‘browser war’ between the two companies came to a head in October 1997, when Internet Explorer 4.0 was released…

After the release party in San Francisco, Microsoft employees took a ten-foot-tall letter “e” logo and left it on the front lawn of the Netscape offices. On the logo was a sign that read (reports differ) “From the IE team ... We Love You”. Not to be beaten, Netscape, took their revenge - employees knocked over the “e”, spray-painted “Netscape now” on it, and set a giant figure of their Mozilla dinosaur mascot on top. Mozilla was holding a sign that read, “Netscape 72, Microsoft 18” - the two companies’ market share distribution at the time.

By bundling IE with its Windows, Microsoft achieved a 60% market share with IE 4. This however, prompted an antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department, and years of complicated litigation. Furthermore, AOL, Netscape's owner, sued the company, accusing Microsoft of unfair competition. While AOL did eventually win, by then it was too late - IE had become the dominant browser.

For a time, IE was, whilst not the only web browser, certainly the most widely used – at its peak (between 2002-2003), Microsoft’s browser dominated the market with 95% usage share. However, the first browser war wasn’t really over – the players just changed a bit. IE’s first notable competitor after beating Netscape was Firefox – a browser from Mozilla, which itself was an offshoot from Microsoft’s old rival, Netscape. In early 2005, Firefox 1.0 had surpassed Internet Explorer 5.


IE’s usage share has continued to decline, particularly with the launch of  Google Chrome in 2008. The growing popularity of non-IE friendly operating systems such as macOS, Linux, iOS and Android have also impacted the browser’s market share. Statcounter estimates Internet Explorer's current overall market share to be 9.28% for desktop, or 3.93% when counting all platforms (as of June 2017).

At Build 2015 (on 17 March 2015), Microsoft announced Microsoft Edge “the all-new Windows 10 browser built to give you a better Web experience”. This effectively retired Internet Explorer, making Internet Explorer 11 the last release. IE does remain on Windows 10 primarily for enterprise purposes, and is currently the only version still supported