It's News To Me

Farewell Internet Explorer

March 26, 2015          

Episode Summary

Last week Microsoft announced that its legendary Internet Explorer browser would be riding off into the sunset. The browser, in its heyday, dominated the Web so thoroughly that it reached over 90% market share, raised the ire of the U.S. Department of Justice, and nearly led to the breakup of Microsoft.

What is the legacy of IE and what does its demise mean for Microsoft? Are the browser wars finally over? In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the end of the IE era and get a first report from Dirk Knemeyer from his trip to Asia to research technology and culture.

Welcome to Episode 96 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett and with me today is Ben Listwon, who’s the Chief Engineer at Involution Studios. Ben welcome to the show.

Thanks Jon, great to be here.

Today on the show we’re going to have two segments. We’re going to start with a discussion of the so-called demise of Internet Explorer. Then we’re going to hear a report from Dirk Knemeyer from his trip to Asia, exploring tech and culture. Two interesting segments for you our listeners, today. Let’s get started.

Last week Microsoft announced that the legendary Internet Explorer would be riding off into the sunset. This is the browser which in its heyday dominated the web to the tune of more than 90% market share, and caused the U.S. Department of Justice to file suit. The outcome of which nearly broke up Microsoft into two companies. With a 90% market share there was a time when the web was pretty much viewed through Internet Explorer. As we think about that today Ben, what do you think is the legacy of IE? How will we look back on it?

I think IE brought us a lot of, for all of the challenges it brought along the way, I think it brought us a lot of good innovation as well. You touched on it when you mentioned the monopoly that was there, and the almost total market domination that it had. A lot of the creativity that we saw around websites that were built to work within early IE was stifled by the browser itself. I think, I really think over time that actually encouraged rival browsers like FireFox, and eventually Safari and WebKit engine, to really think about things in contrast to that platform.

As much as it was sort of restrictive in the early going, I think it really shaped the landscape that was there. I think the legacy it leaves behind is one that really got built up around the browser and the culture of Microsoft. One that was encouraged I think experimentation, but also locked folks into it. I don’t know, it’s kind of tricky, but for me it actually help pushed things along as much as it held things back in some respects.

I think it’s very interesting that even though technically Microsoft did not create that walled garden with Internet Explorer, it was the de facto browser for so long that it created these … people had to sort of hack there way around it when they had to create functionality that didn’t fit in with the prescribed way of doing things in Microsoft land.

If we harken back a little bit earlier, you think about when the web was mostly accessed for many people via America Online. America Online at one point was such a huge consideration that it basically acquired Time Warner, which over time the digital property of AOL declined, and it’s influence went away, and Time Warner decided that it was not was going to be AOL Time Warner anymore. In the same way it had this restrictive, the restrictive preamble to the more open web that we think we have now, I guess.

Internet Explorer seemed to pick up that mantle just as AOL was starting to decline there. It makes me wonder what that means for browsers going forward as well, how people access the web. Because as you thoughtfully pointed out during our offline conversation, the browser, the web is in more places now than we ever thought it would be in the early 2000’s. You’ve got your mobile, you’re got your iPads, you’ve got, God forbid you can get it in your car. There’s a lot more embedded functionality that came out of this Microsoft IE legacy.

Even now the percentage is something like 50% plus of the browsers are still Internet Explorer. I think in some ways it’s almost as if Microsoft has just completely given up on the brand of Internet Explorer because it’s so tainted from the browser wars. What do you think of that Ben?

I think that’s right. I think you touched on in there another thing I was reading about recently was how Facebook is going to start publishing content from news feeds, and from other news organizations. The danger that that represents in creating another walled garden; I was reading something that called it AOL 2.0. I think that’s the real danger there is not allowing that content to be consumed by other devices that you may consider to be rival devices. I think honestly Microsoft’s attitude on that is changing. We can see that even in the way they think about Spartan as a project, as the new sort of browser that they’re going to have.

Also, in terms of Cortana and other innovations that they’re putting into Windows 10, I think they’re thinking about, even it’s just primarily within their own ecosystem, they’re thinking about other ways people can see that content. Whether that’s on an X-box, or it’s on a surface, and making that experience more consistent and more reliable across those devices, so that you don’t, you’re not having two or three different versions of that browser, or different version of that software.

In so doing, they’ve started to embrace things like more open web technologies, or at least interoperate with them. I think now you can see content publishers more freely publishing to a way of publishing that can be pushed to a Microsoft device just as easily as it can be be consumed on an Apple device. I think that’s great. I think even if they continue to focus mainly internally on their own hardware platforms, I think allowing the information and the data to flow in and out is a huge concession that they probably wouldn’t have made 10 years ago.

I think that’s interesting, because we framed up this conversation at the beginning, at least of this as are the browser wars over. Is this period of history online completely moving into another stage. At the same time you see the browser as operating system. I don’t, it’s hard for me to tell when you look at the Chromebook, where it’s pretty much an online appliance all the time. You consider the sort of coming internet of things where there’s going to be a lot more connectedness across your everyday devices. You start thinking about the platform, and maybe that’s part of Microsoft’s Cloud platform play, as they think that IE is holding them back in some way, and Spartan might be there.

Their attempt as being less heavy-handed, and therefore, maybe a little bit easier to stomach and adopt. Especially when you see some of their, the rival browsers you’ve got. Of course, Chrome, and then the spirit of Mosaic and Netscape living on through the Mozilla instantiation in FireFox. All of them leveraging, at least more open standards than Microsoft was ever able to do.

That’s right, and you know when, I think when Chrome for example, the browser chose to really focus around supporting WebKit, not only was that sort of a big coup in the sense that Safari and now Chrome would work on the same underlying engine. I think it was also a signaling of the upcoming, new instantiation of a browser war as it were. It wouldn’t be fought around the browser itself. It would be fought around the content, and the ability to serve more and more of other folks content using the engine that you had. I think it’ll be great if Spartan is something that can be deployed on new devices much more easily than the old Internet Explorer was.

I think IE was so tied to the operating system that part of it’s lock on that market was because it relied on underlying technology to display that content. Now I think they missed out as time went on, on other folks content that couldn’t they display. If their new engine is much more modular, I guess, that means it can play nicer with a lot of the other ones that are out there. Maybe folks will choose to incorporate it into new products, and new devices that they build as an embedded browser, which was something frankly you couldn’t do before.

It’s like you said, it’s less about the browser war itself, and I think more about the reach of each of these pieces of technology that the big guys have put out there that Google has, Facebook has, Microsoft has. Who’s offering developers the coolest, latest, set of tools, and the one that has the most flexibility is going to get onto those new devices, and into that internet of things with much deeper penetration.

I think that’s exactly right, that’s sort of the new paradigm for dealing with these platforms. One thing worth considering, especially for us as we deal with a lot of healthcare IT, is that the legacy of Internet Explorer is going to be felt for a very, very long time. I mean I’ve dealt with hospital systems that have been very reluctant to upgrade their browsers because of various security concerns. Everything’s working so they don’t want to make those upgrades.

I think not too recently I’ve seen people still using Internet Explorer 7 in hospitals. That is, to me that says that Internet Explorer in some flavor is going to be encountered by software developers, at least in the healthcare IT space for a while yet. It may be gone, but it’s certainly not going to be forgotten, at least not by us. What’s your feeling on that then?

Tying it all the way back to the top of the discussion there, I think that’s absolutely right. In terms of legacy and continuing to have to consider and think about it, it’s something not only within healthcare, but in a lot of corporate or other larger institutions. It’s going to be around for a long time. I think honestly, part of the challenge there is going to be on us as developers in dealing with it, and also supporting new and more innovative technologies. Also, part of that responsibility is going to fall to Microsoft to really show that their new platform is something that offers a higher degree of security.

Offers a higher degree of functionality, so that those institutions can actually move forward. I think part of the… you know when you were talking about hey everything’s working. Part of that reluctance to upgrade is that in the past that’s come with a lot of pain. I think if they can show a happy path for those institutions to something that just makes everyone’s lives easier and better, but still offers that level of security, I think you’ll see folks begin to move to these new technologies.

In truth, the interaction with Cortana and other assistive technologies that are in the OS and in the browser can really make peoples lives easier. Think about in a hospital if you don’t have to touch the screen, if you can just talk to it while you’re in the operating theater and ask it to pull up an x-ray or something that you needed. That’s huge, and I think if they can build apps, and prototypes around those things they’ll really get that corporate support to help move forward.

I think you’re correct Ben. We’ll leave it right there for the discussion on Internet Explorer. Listeners please tweet at us with your comments at GOINVO, that G-O-I-N-V-O on Twitter. Now we’re going to hear from Dirk Knemeyer on his Asia trip report.

Hi Digital Life listeners, it’s Dirk here, and this is the first update in a trip report. I’m in the process of visiting Asia, and going not all across Asia, but visiting a number of different destinations. Observing, observing culture, observing technology, and trying to grow my brain, grow my understanding of what’s a very interesting culture. Trying to get a sense of it. Trying to really immerse myself and see what’s going on, because I’ve never been here.

I’ve been only to India, and Nepal, and Asia, so this is all very new for me, and I’m trying to really broaden my understanding of the world. Different cultures, different ways of living and working, no idea really what will come of it from the standpoint of specific takeaways. I don’t know that I have an agenda, other than technology and culture in the broadest ways. Kind of seeing what the journey will… where it will take me.

Before heading to Asia I actually had a few days in Las Vegas. I had a gaming convention there that my wife went with me. We wanted to spend a little bit of time together before this trip. I actually want to start with Vegas, because there were some really interesting things there. I haven’t been there in about a decade, maybe not that long, but seven, eight years, and there were a couple things that really stood out at me.

One was the smoking in public places. If you haven’t been to Vegas recently it’s really jarring, because in the different places where I visit, East coast, West coast, and live in the Midwest, at this point smoking in public places is pretty much weeded out, you just don’t see much of it, except in very specific places. In Vegas the casinos are full of smokers. You’re in an indoor space and it kind of smells like cigarettes, and there’s cigarette smoking wafting in the air. It’s almost like a relic, a very, very strange relic, which when I was there before smoking was still more common in public places, whereas now it’s pretty much verboten. Really interesting to see that culture continue in Las Vegas.

Also, I was really taken by the sort of a microcosm of society, the ways and degrees to which the 99% and the 1% are siloed away from each other. When you’re out walking up and down the strip, or on the floor of casinos, or in the little malls in between the casinos, the population is pretty much the 99%. You see a lot of working class folk there. A lot of people who are clearly for them going to Las Vegas is a really big deal. They probably, you can tell that they are folks who aren’t taking a whole lot pf vacations. This is something that is special, and maybe even hard to afford in some cases, and so really something meaningful. You’d don’t see a lot of affluent people, frankly.

However, we’re foodies, so we went to a couple of really nice restaurants. In those restaurants all you see are the so called one percenters, see there really are none of the people who are up and down the strip, and in the casinos. While we didn’t do any gambling in high roller rooms, just walking by those as well, again it’s the one percenters as you would imagine in the high roller rooms, and not the sort of normal folks.

It was a very stark contrast, because in my real life, if I go to the grocery store for example, you’ll see a blend of people. It’s not fully segregated. Where as in Las Vegas it really was, it was in a very notable way, which was just a reminder of the some the bigger socioeconomic things going on right now.

Left Vegas and came to Hong Kong last night, my first port-of-call. My first time to Hong Kong and to this part of Asia. First impressions, very interesting. In the airport i was really struck by the multiculturalism. Almost everyone was Asian, and I had the good fortune to live in California for a number of years, and so I’ve developed some sophistication. When I look at people who are “Asian”, I can identify Vietnamese, or Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, or what have you. I was really struck by how heterogeneous the population was at the airport. Yes it was almost entirely Asian, but from all up and down the Pacific rim, all kinds of different people.

That was an interesting surprise, because I haven’t really studied up on Hong Kong at all. I know that China for the most part is very Chinese, with much less intermingling of other cultured people from other cultures there, and really participating up at the same level in the culture. That was eye-opening, and really an interesting thing to see.

Also, sort of unusual to Hong Kong, particularly compared to the rest of China is all of the signs are in English. As well as in, I guess Cantonese is the spoken, but in the Chinese characters that are on the signs. There’s a little bit of a wading in process, because I know once I go to China and the points onward, there won’t be English crutches for me. For now I do appreciate them as part of the transition process, moving in. However, they don’t really speak much English here.

Taxi drivers in particular, I have yet to talk to one. I have yet to approach a cab where they could speak English at all. I was really fortunate for having already on my phone the places I’m going in Chinese characters basically. I could show that to the cab drivers, and they could figure it out. Otherwise it would be really interesting trying to make my way around. I still have a couple days here, I’ve only been around this morning and afternoon a little bit. I’m having a hard time putting it in a bucket.

Hong Kong reminds me of a lot of different cities. It reminds of a Chinatown in San Francisco, for the obvious reasons of Chinese characters, Chinese language, and Asian people. Also, the store fronts, the way that some of the some of the streets and the alleyways are structured, just reminiscent. What people have out on the curb, and the way people move around, it definitely there was some of that for me. It’s not totally like that. On the other hand there’s elements of New York City. The sort of juxtaposition between the taller buildings, the skyscrapers, the storefronts sort of all around the city, and the very urban living in good ways.

There’s a little bit of that, there’s a little bit of Rio too. In areas I was blessed to be taken all around; I’ll talk a little bit about that more in minute. In some of the areas with publicly subsidized housing, definitely some things that reminded me of Rio there particularly, among some other things. I don’t quite, and maybe I won’t be able to call Hong Kong anything but Hong Kong, but so far I’m having a hard time saying hey Hong Kong is kind of like this place. It’s kind of like a little parts of a lot of different places. As such, it’s really interesting in and of itself.

One of the things that I was going to do in Hong Kong was give a talk to a UX group here in Hong Kong. Dan Zook was organizing that. He had to travel so that wasn’t able to happen. He and I had breakfast, brunch today, and he took me all around the city, sort of one-on-one, which was really wonderful in a lot of different ways.

Dan’s a guy who we’ve been in each other orbits for about a decade, a mutual friend, Pabini Gabriel-Petit, put us in touch. We just had never met actually. We had some e-mails back and forth, and I’ve certainly admired him and his work from afar. It was great to have a chance to have to spend, I don’t four hours, or five hours, or however long we were together today.

It’s really something where travel is a really important thing. If you’re someone who’s listening to this show, most of you should travel more than you do. I don’t know you specifically, listener X, but travel is such an important and powerful thing from the standpoint of giving you more context, more understanding of the world.

When traveling, if you travel, do make an effort to reach out to other people in the UX community, or in your particular professional community, and spend some time with them. It’s really terrific. In talking and meeting with Dan I knew a little bit about him in terms of the name of his company, which is a very well known and impressive company in some of the things that’s done. As we ended up talking and really getting into what we’re interested in and the things that we’re doing, he’s working on these things that are really amazing and very different from what I expected, or what I thought.

In talking and discovering and sharing what I’m doing as well you can just kind of feel your brain getting bigger. More learning, more understanding, and more connecting the relationship. Having someone who you can carry on with in correspondence, and potentially working together who knows. I really want to impress upon people when you are visiting somewhere new, somewhere different, if you already have people in your network, or people who are closely connected to someone you’re closely connected to in your network, totally try and get together.

Try and make some time to when you’re there, or if they’re visiting, of course, always be very open to welcoming them in, because it is something that’s really powerful. It makes… it’s just in so many ways from the standpoint of the trip itself, but also from the networking, and the growing of yourself as a professional. That was time that I really cherished today, and learned a lot from. That’s a really good thing.

By the next time that I’m on here talking I’ll have spent some more time in Hong Kong, where I’ll have some more notes. Then moving on to Shenzhen for a few days. We have some business partners there who going to see their facilities, and have some meetings. I’ll talk more about the totality of that next time. Then going to a place called, I’m sure I’ll mispronounce this, but Chulin, which is a little bit more off the beaten path. I’ll have those experiences under my belt when I talk to you next. Jon and all listeners thanks so much and I will be with you again soon.

Listeners remember that while you’re listening to the show you can follow along with the things we were mentioning here in real time. Head over to the, that’s just one “L” in the digitalife, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody. It’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening, or afterward if you’d like to remember something that you liked. If you want to follow us outside of the show you can follow me on Twitter@jonfollett, that’s Jon Follett, and of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out and, that’s That’s it for Episode 96 of the Digital Life. I’m Jon Follett and we’ll see you next time.

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