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Internet Explorer is shutting down in a burst of nostalgia

It was buggy and slow. But it was always there. Until it wasn't. On Wednesday, the web browser, loved and loathed by a generation, was officially retired, swept into the dustbin of internet history

By Michael Levenson
Published: Jun 17, 2022

Internet Explorer is shutting down in a burst of nostalgiaBill Gates, CEO of Microsoft Corp., promotes Internet Explorer 4.0 in San Francisco, September 30, 1997. Image: Reuters

It was Aug. 16, 1995. “Waterfalls” by TLC was the No. 1 song in the country. Bill Clinton was in the White House. And Microsoft introduced a new way to surf the web: Internet Explorer.

It was buggy and slow, many said. But it was always there. Until it wasn’t. On Wednesday, the web browser, loved and loathed by a generation, was officially retired, swept into the dustbin of internet history.

The occasion stirred surprisingly strong feelings of nostalgia for the 1990s and early 2000s, an era when many first came to know the online world through stuttering dial-up connections, chat rooms and long-gone social media sites like Friendster.

Now that Internet Explorer is no more, many pined for a time when the little blue icon with the lowercase “e” was their escape route out of childhood bedrooms, college dorm rooms and office cubicles.

“Even though I don’t use it anymore, I’m still going to miss the idea of it,” said Brett Babino, 27, an Amazon worker from Port Arthur, Texas, who was 11 when he started using Internet Explorer to do schoolwork and play online games like Club Penguin.

“It was slow,” Babino said, “but it got me through a lot of things.”

He was among many who were greeting the passing of Internet Explorer on Wednesday by fondly recalling how essential it once was, despite its many faults. Memes and jokes featuring tombstones and grim reapers abounded.

“Today marks the official end of Microsoft’s support for Internet Explorer,” Marques Brownlee, a web video producer, wrote on Twitter. “RIP to the #1 Chrome installer of all time.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab offered its condolences.

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“Rest in peace, Internet Explorer,” it wrote on Twitter. “You’ll be missed. We feel old.”

Michael L. Nelson, a computer science professor at Old Dominion University, said that Microsoft’s decision to shut down Internet Explorer and move users to its newer browser, Edge, “marks the end of an era.”

Internet Explorer’s inclusion in the ubiquitous Windows operating system and the requirement that it be used on certain government websites made the browser an inescapable part of daily life for millions, he said.

It also hastened the demise of Netscape Navigator, the world’s first commercial web browser.

“Internet Explorer was certainly not the first browser, but its inclusion in Windows back in the mid-1990s really helped bring the web to a very large user base” and made the internet more widely accessible, Nelson said.

Even so, he said, “It was never a great browser.”

“If you wanted to do high-performance stuff or you were on the cutting edge, anything from Microsoft was like driving around in your mom’s Toyota Camry,” Nelson said. “It did the job but nobody got excited about a really low-performance, unlovable browser.”

In a blog post about the retirement of the browser, Sean Lyndersay, general manager of Microsoft Edge Enterprise, said Wednesday that, despite its remarkable role in the evolution of the web, “Internet Explorer’s reputation today is, deservedly, one of a product from an older era — quirky in behavior and lacking the security of a modern browser.”

Over the next few months, users who open Internet Explorer will be redirected to Microsoft Edge with “IE mode,” he wrote.

“Eventually, Internet Explorer will be disabled permanently as part of a future Windows update, at which point the Internet Explorer icons on users’ devices will be removed,” he wrote. He called Edge a “faster, more secure and more modern browser.”

In the 1990s, Microsoft was forced to defend Internet Explorer in a major antitrust case brought by the Justice Department. In 2001, the department announced that it would no longer seek to split the company in two or contend that Microsoft had illegally tied Internet Explorer to its Windows operating system.

In the years since, many Internet Explorer users switched to Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari, finding them faster, safer and less likely to crash. When Babino downloaded Chrome in 2015, he said, he found that it offered more features and extensions and that it was “more aesthetically pleasing.”

He never clicked on Internet Explorer again.

“It just faded out,” he said.

©2019 New York Times News Service

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