A few months ago, I wrote a quick look back at Bill Gates' "Tidal Wave" email to Microsoft's employees on May 26, 1995. Gates, then CEO of the company, said that Microsoft must turn its attention to releasing products that used the internet.
A few months after that milestone email from Gates, the first version of the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser was released. Microsoft launched the first version of IE on August 16, 1995, or 28 years ago this week (some online sources claim IE1 was launched on August 24, 1995, the same date Windows 95 became generally available, but I've decided to stick with the earlier date).
The truth is that the development of Internet Explorer started several months before Gate's big email. In a post on his personal site, former Microsoft team member Ben Slivka talked a bit about creating the first version of IE, starting in October 1994:
In early October, my manager John Ludwig asked me to assemble a team and build a web browser for “Chicago” (the code name for Windows 95). I quickly grabbed 6 people and we went to work. Thomas Reardon licensed the NCSA Mosaic code base from Spyglass in December, and in early January we mapped out an 8-week development plan for “O’Hare” (the international gateway to the world for the City of Chicago, and our web browser would be the gateway to the World Wide Web for Windows 95).
I've also written about the brief history of the Mosaic web browser, which launched back in April 1993. However, according to former Spyglass team member Eric Sink, there was no code from NCSA's browser in Spyglass Mosaic. He added:
We won the Microsoft deal. I suppose only the higher echelons of Spyglass management really know the gory details of this negotiation. I was asked to be the primary technical contact for Microsoft and their effort to integrate our browser into Windows 95. I went to Redmond and worked there for a couple of weeks as part of the "Chicago" team. It was fun, but weird. They gave me my own office. At dinner time, everyone went to the cafeteria for food and then went back to work. On my first night, I went back to my hotel at 11:30pm. I was one of the first to leave.
Internet Explorer 1 was a pretty bare-bones web browser. It could handle basic HTML code but that was really all it could do. It also only supported Microsoft's new Windows 95 operating system. It was first included in the Microsoft Plus! 95 software product under its Internet Jumpstart Kit.
Microsoft did release IE 1.5 a number of months later. It added support for Windows NT and also could handle HTML table rendering.
When Microsoft made its deal with Spyglass to use its code for the first IE version, Microsoft said it would pay a quarterly fee to Spyglass, along with a percentage of its revenues from the app. However, Microsoft decided to release the browser for free. As a result, Spyglass sued Microsoft, claiming it only received the minimal amount of required quarterly money from the company.
The two companies decided to settle the lawsuit in 1997, with Microsoft paying $8 million to Spyglass. Just three years later, Spyglass got acquired by a company called OpenTV and is officially no more.
Yes, Internet Explorer is now no more, as Microsoft finally ended support for IE11 in 2022 in favor of its Edge browser. However, if you want to check out some software history there are places where you can download the original IE 1 browser like OldVersion.com and My Internet Explorer.
There are a ton of things I could write about the history of IE, including the federal antitrust lawsuit in 1998 that was filed against Microsoft for bundling IE with Windows, which could have broken the company up. However, I might write about that story some other time.