American business history is full of beloved products that were sadly missed after being discontinued. Microsoft(NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer browser will not be one of them.
There were few teary-eyed eulogies last month when the software giant confirmed long-standing rumors that it would replace IE with a new default browser packed into its Windows operating system. Rather, the dominant emotion was relief -- and rightfully so.
Microsoft built a massive software empire on the back of its ubiquitous Windows OS, but it never managed to leverage that into a formidable Internet presence.
Internet Explorer was the personification of its online fumbles. Right from its introduction in 1995, it was a temperamental, clunky piece of software. It always seemed to lack some of the useful features of its rivals, and it never improved much despite a host of modifications over the years.
Worse, IE was vulnerable to malicious hacking, even in its later versions. Operating a klutzy browser light on features was challenging enough -- using one susceptible to attack was a risk no one needed to take. As a result, IE was never a widely trusted product.
Rivals had little problem eating into the market (although, to be fair, a major antitrust suit against Microsoft helped). Netscape successor Firefox won a lot of converts, followed by Google Chrome. These competitors were lighter, faster, and typically had more useful features.
Despite IE being the default browser for Windows, millions of users have gone to the trouble of setting up alternatives. According to web analytics specialist NetMarketShare, IE desktop browser market share was 59% at the end of last year, compared to 23% for Chrome and 12% for Firefox.
Meanwhile, in mobile, Internet Explorer barely has a pulse. NetMarketShare data has Apple Safari taking 44% with Chrome a distant second at 24%. Internet Explorer held a mere sliver at 2%.
To its credit, Microsoft seems to have finally accepted that Internet Explorer is 1) a dog of a program, and 2) outdated technology.
So, it is good that the company is pushing into the future with its new flagship browser, code-named Project Spartan. The next-generation product will make its debut with the upcoming Windows 10 OS. It is reportedly a light, fast piece of software that will function similarly across desktops and mobile devices.
Unlike IE, Microsoft will pull ahead its rivals in terms of features -- among a number of juicy perks is the integration of digital "personal assistant" Cortana, the ability to mark up web pages with a mouse or stylus and share the results, and the presence of built-in web page clipping tools.
Like a pesky housefly avoiding a swat, the end of Internet Explorer will not come quickly. Microsoft will include it with Windows 10 as an option for those individuals and businesses who, for whatever reason, prefer the legacy browser. It will certainly be phased out eventually, just not in the immediate future.
Its time has clearly come, though, and not only because it makes Microsoft look old and out of touch. Since IE is basically invisible on mobile, the company is missing out on significant revenue opportunities such as channeling web searches to the paid ads on its Bing site.
Above all, Microsoft's future success relies on how well it can shift from its one-time dominance of desktop PC software to the mobile and cloud solutions demanded in the current market. Internet Explorer is very much part of that past, and as such, has no place in the company's future.