This week’s entry is a double feature about Internet Explorer. Read on for part 1, which examines why IE4 was awesome, then check out part 2, where I’ll admit that I’m grateful for IE8.
I found an old CD at work the other day; it was an install disk for Internet Explorer 4 SP1 for Windows NT and 95, still in its original packaging. I was quick to grab it, thinking about how great it will be to make fun of what an awful browser it must’ve been (I actually never used Windows NT or 95 or even 98.. I was raised Apple until 2000). So I pulled up Wikipedia and started reading, expecting to find plenty of things to laugh at, only to realize that what I was holding in my hand was actually a remarkable software artifact. IE4 wasn’t just great, it was legendary.
IE4 was the first wildly successful version of Internet Explorer. When it was released in fall of 1997, Netscape Navigator was the default “everyone uses it” browser. Internet Explorer, as a franchise, was the underdog. In merely a year and a half, IE4 had attained over 60% market share â€” it was the first version of IE to capture the majority of browser users, starting the first-ever browser war and a dynasty of sheer dominance for the Internet Explorer brand that peaked at just over 95% market share and is still running today, 11 years later.
IE4 pioneered the Trident rendering engine, which has been used in every version of IE since (and a few other places). It was bundled with the first official version of Outlook Express, and also included a chat client, a VoIP client (which supported video chat), a stripped-down web development platform, and RealPlayer (which was actually popular back then). There was even an optional download package that added an Active Desktop feature, which was essentially a precursor to the widgets found in Windows Vista/7.
IE4 also made significant UI improvements to the Internet Explorer line, moving from the bevelled-button motif that was popular at the time to the toolbar we still see in browsers today (see this pre-IE4 screenshot, then this one of IE4 â€” both courtesy of this wonderful IE archive site â€” and note the difference in the toolbar).
In short, this was one kick-ass cut of software. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of Microsoft’s output was this revolutionary? Where would browsing be today if every version of IE raised the bar this high?