Up, down, and out: 20 years of Internet Explorer

On IE's 20th anniversary, the story of the Web browser that had it all and lost its way

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It's 20 years since Microsoft first launched Internet Explorer, on Aug. 16, 1995, as part of the Microsoft Plus Internet Jumpstart Kit for Windows 95. But rather than a celebration, Microsoft sends out a different message via the new Edge browser in Windows 10: "Thanks for all the great work you've done, but I got it from here."

Twenty years on, Microsoft is finally moving away from Internet Explorer and trying to lose the association with IE6 -- a browser that went from being ahead of its time to a fossilized platform holding companies back. By IE10 and IE11, the browser you love to hate had become a modern browser that was discriminated against as much for reasons of history and loyalty as for any real technical reasons. Edge keeps only the HTML5 standards support from what would have been IE12, losing the ever-increasing burden of legacy compatibility that ended up cramming three versions of the rendering engine in to one browser in favor of a clean break.

But dismissing IE as a legacy system misses out on key developments in browser history, as well as the scope of Microsoft's ambitions for the Web. The story looks a little different when you realize how much Microsoft had in its grasp in the 1990s and how much of the Web platform that Google and Mozilla have brought us since Redmond let slip through its fingers back.

Why were there so many missed opportunities? Why did IE drop the ball, what made Microsoft wake up to the potential of the Web -- and has it found a way to manage compatibility and still stay modern in the world of living standards that never stop changing?

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