Even though a new version was just released back in March, Internet Explorer is still bleeding market share. The growth that IE9 has gotten is mostly just cannibalization of older versions of IE, and overall it recently fell below 50% of market share. IE6, released in 2001, controls as much of the market as the latest version.
Microsoft has been trying very hard, especially with IE9, to breathe new life into it's browser. Arguably, they got it right this time. But it's not helping. Some people think that it's Microsoft's lack of a major presence in mobile that's hurting them. Other people will tell you that it's the lack of extensions and updates. But what's really behind the long, painful demise of Internet Explorer? It really began picking up steam with IE3 in 1996, very quickly becoming the #1 browser. They must have been doing something right. Somewhere along the line, though, something went horribly wrong.
It began in 2002. At that point, IE had 95% of the browser market. Netscape couldn't touch it, and there wasn't another real competitor on the horizon. Microsoft was king, so they could rest and enjoy the fruits of their labor, right? Wrong.
Phoenix came, quite appropriately, out of the ashes of Netscape, and by the time it became known as Mozilla Firefox in 2004, IE's cracks were starting to show. Compared to Firefox, it was clunky, slow, and boring. IE was a dog. It sucked. Microsoft's answer was to do nothing. It wasn't until October 2006, more than five years after the launch of IE6, that Microsoft released IE7. For the first time, IE had tabbed browsing, something that Firefox already had in 2002. IE7 was an improvement, but it was too late. The damage had been done; IE was the browser you used to download a better browser.
By the time IE8 was released in 2009 there was a new kid on the block: Google Chrome. It was fast, sleek, extendable, with all of Google's marketing power behind it. IE8 wasn't a dog, but it was hardly impressive enough to win any new fans, either.
Image courtesy of shoze.blogspot.com
Microsoft realized that they had to do something truly radical if they wanted to regain some of their lost market share. Rewriting large portions of the code from the ground up, they overhauled the entire interface of the browser. From the first time it was shown off, IE9 was well received.
It was released in March of 2011. Firefox 4.0 came out a few days later, and Google Chrome was already in it's 10th incarnation. Testing found that IE9 easily matched the speeds of its competitors, and it boasted a cleaner interface that allowed more room for the web. By all accounts, it was a worthy competitor to the best of them, though it still lacked strong support for extensions.
Even with all the praise it has received, IE9 is still getting the short end of the stick. Firefox's growth is more or less stagnant at this point, but Chrome continues to gobble up market share at an ever faster rate, much of it taken out of IE.
The real problem is the reputation that Internet Explorer 'earned' through the botched releases of yore. It doesn't matter how good of a product Microsoft releases, Internet Explorer has too much baggage behind it.
If Microsoft ran something similar to the Mojave Experiment like they did with Vista, demonstrating IE as a different product, I believe that it would be much more well received. Face it: the vast majority of consumers couldn't care less what browser they are using. They just want to get online and do what they want. They just want the browser to stay the hell out of their way (something IE is good at). Most of the criticism directed at IE comes from people like you and I. We like to think of ourselves as being 'in the know.'
How Internet Explorer is perceived (courtesy of verydemotivational.com)
We are the people who fix our elderly neighbor's computers. We are enthusiasts. Some of us do this for a living. Many of you hate IE because of what it used to be, not because of what it is. If it was left up to a large portion of users, they would never move beyond it. Not because they hate it and they're being forced to use it, but because it works perfectly well enough for them. Like me, I bet that a lot of you are guilty of installing Firefox or Chrome on other people's computers. You couldn't leave IE on their computer in good conscience, not when it was the mess that it used to be.
It's not something I want to see happen, but from a business standpoint, I think that it's the best solution. Microsoft needs to drop the IE name. It might be lamented by the likes of us, an old friend going away, but I think that it would be best for Microsoft. They could hold on to the technology that they have built, but get rid of all the excess baggage that comes with the name Internet Explorer. It would be starting from a clean slate, and it would cost brand recognition. But is the recognition that comes from Internet Explorer really the kind of recognition that Microsoft wants?