How Microsoft Internet Explorer Almost Became The Default Web Browser

How Microsoft Internet Explorer Almost Became The Default Web Browser


If you’ve paid attention
to anything technology-related recently, you’ve probably seen
headlines like these. Antitrust regulation is gaining a
lot of traction in the media as well as in
the Department of Justice. But in general, we’ve started to
see what has been broadly termed a ‘techlash’. A lot of concern about the
role of technology as well as the size of these companies and
the impact that they may be having on individuals
in society. Since May 2019, the DOJ
has opened antitrust probes into the likes of Apple,
Google and Facebook. The last major antitrust action
against a major company occurred more than
two decades ago. Remember Internet Explorer? Microsoft’s browser has since been
eclipsed by the likes of Google’s Chrome and
Apple Safari. But it was once so powerful
the federal government had to step in. Here’s what happened. In 1994, Microsoft was on
top of the blossoming tech industry. Its operating system was
fast becoming the go-to software for professionals and
casual computer users alike. But if you wanted to get on
the Internet in the early 90s, you were using this. Netscape Navigator. Software which makes it easy
for people to connect the global computer network
called the Internet. Netscape Navigator was the king
of Web browsers at the time, but there
was a downside. You had to pay $49 to
install Netscape on your computer, the equivalent to about
$85 dollars today. You could also choose from AOL
or Prodigy, but those cost $9.95 a month. But these options were still
light years ahead of Microsoft at the time. Microsoft didn’t even have
internet connectivity built into its software until
the mid 90s. But the new wave of
popularity surrounding Navigator was reason enough for Microsoft CEO Bill
Gates to pen a letter to the company in 1995
titled The Internet Tidal Wave. With this document, Gates laid
out his vision of the Internet. He wanted Microsoft’s
development teams to, quote, go overboard
on Internet features. Gates also laid out seven broad
examples of the ways the company could conquer
the Internet. One specific example, Microsoft
needed a Web browser. Fast forward to the second
half of 1995, and Microsoft released its brand new Windows
95 operating system, as well as Internet Explorer 1.0. But they were separate. They weren’t bundled until 1996
as part of Windows’s first major update and this changed
the game for Microsoft. It was a new way to
get online without any extra installation. It came with
the operating system. And best of all, Microsoft had
the advantage of being a massive company that could offer
its software for free. And it was a massive success. In just over a year,
Microsoft gained 10 percent market share. This, of course,
sent other companies revenues plummeting. But I eat success
might not have been purely from the popularity
of Windows. Allegations that Microsoft began
making it incredibly difficult to install other Web
browsers began to surface. The allegations were enough to
spark a DOJ antitrust probe into Microsoft in 1998. The antitrust case against Microsoft
was a bit different to how the law was
used in the past. Before cases were based on
one central issue: Was a dominant company charging super
high prices without anyone to compete with. But
this case changed that. The DOJ argued that Microsoft
stifled competition by using its sheer size to barge
into the browser wars. It could offer Internet Explorer
for free, included in the OS and Netscape would be cut
out of the business from the very first time the
computer was turned on. If you suppress your competitors’
innovation and you’re the only game in town, and
you keep suppressing innovation, surely that’s the
harm to competition. In fact, it’s one of the
biggest harms to competition and it’s been known in economic field
for all these years that suppressing innovation is even
worse than raising prices because you’re preventing the
progressive movement of the markets. On top of that, if a
person wanted to install Netscape on the computer. Microsoft allegedly
made it incredibly difficult to do so. Microsoft, on the other hand,
argued that people chose to use its operating system because
it was simply better than the competition. But
Microsoft lost. The court ruled that the company
had to split its software and operating system divisions in
order to abide by antitrust regulation, at
least at first. That decision was later thrown
out in appeals court, right as the Bush administration settled
into the White House. By the time a settlement
had been reached in 2001, Microsoft’s position in the browser
wars was already being eaten away by competition from
the likes of Mozilla Firefox, an offshoot
of Netscape. Internet Explorer wasn’t the
only antitrust battle that Microsoft faced, Novell was
a company specializing in network computing and software in
the early 80s and 90s. The company was also known
for its word processing software, WordPerfect. The company complained in
2004 that Microsoft intentionally made it difficult to install its
software, just like it did with IE. But Novell’s case
spent a decade bouncing around the courts. Unlike the United States v. Microsoft case that came
before it, Novell lost. An appeals court said
that Microsoft’s actions didn’t constitute antitrust behavior. And the Supreme Court declined to
take up the case in 2014. Those two cases are really in
great tension with each other because the U.S. against Microsoft,
as I would say, the opposite point of view, that a
firm with market power does have a duty to deal
fairly and not anti-competitively with those who want to
use its platform. Novell was acquired in 2014 and
by then had left the word processing business. It’s unclear whether an antitrust
case brought against tech giants today would rule in the
same vein as United States v. Microsoft or more
like Novell v. Microsoft. If U.S. against Microsoft is
giving credence above Novell against Microsoft, it has a lot
to say on controlling the almost unaccountable power of
the Big Tech firms. Accusations that Apple’s App
Store stifle competition resemble arguments that Microsoft
prevented downloads of other applications. And Google Chrome
is now the king of Internet browsers. Big Tech
companies are also swallowing up startups and smaller
firms left and right. The tech world has become
a winner-take -all affair. Tech mergers have faced
particular scrutiny, especially in congressional hearings. When a company owns four
of the largest six entities measured by active users. We have a word for it.
And that’s monopoly, or at least Monopoly power. The Big Tech executives
might beg to differ. We face intense competition for
all of the products and services that we provide to
name a few examples. Twitter, Snapchat, iMessage,
Skype, Telegram, Google, YouTube and Amazon are
for photo and video sharing, messaging, advertising and other
services that compete with Facebook. There’s also concern that
antitrust regulation remains too broad to tackle
tech’s problems. Antitrust is a sledgehammer where
even if you have some concerns about specific policy issues
such as privacy, what you really need is
more of a scalpel. So it is this
very powerful tool. And breaking up could result
in things like breaking up teams that make
innovation more difficult. So as Congress, the public
and Big /tech itself start calling for more regulation,
Microsoft’s past antitrust troubles could hint
at what’s ahead.

95 comments

  1. And yet we are still poor af.. jobs leaving or taken over by AI.. we losing our nation to corperate giants.. including our freedoms.

  2. Personally, i find it hard to leave Google. It's like the complete package. Maps, mail, classroom, Youtube. It's what i use daily 🙁

  3. Google has become default for android!
    Is like doesn't matter what tech we talk about is like they get big boom they hug the market.

  4. Google, Facebook and apple need to be broken up. They're colluding to mess with another election and this should be addressed before these 3 companies define Orwell 1984 nightmare.

  5. Those judges are so old…
    They wouldn’t even know what to do with tech…. that to make it fair they need to be informed

  6. Microsoft became lazy in updating IE, this gave Google Chrome the initiative to become the go to browser; and now Microsoft are trying to chase Chrome.

  7. Netscape was maybe shareware, I never paid for it. Used it till Firefox replaced it. Before that, there was just usenet and email. Have had an internet account since 1991. Oh…MS was never a monopoly on browers, the fact that others have taken their place prove that. Anti-trust law is bogus.

  8. I hate this stuff. Myself as a consumer know when I get an iPhone what I’m getting myself into. I don’t want other people software on it. I want Apple to control everything. Because it easy. The people fighting this are people 40+ people that aren’t technically inclined.

  9. used Netscape from day one on the net and never had a problem with it. never understood why people bitched about not being able to switch. all the lawsuit did was turn Microsoft into a massive lobbyist in DC. the federal gov is one huge monopoly that doesn't seem to bother people…

  10. I wish they'd clarify "Microsoft made it intentionally difficult to install their software". It's talked about several times, but I have no idea what that would mean. Surely, an installer is an installer. There wasn't some app store to deny them access to.

  11. So… does anyone consider hegemony is natural?…They're basically saying if you succeed and get very big and use the position of power that you obviously worked hard for, from a small pebble to becoming a large mountain of a company, thats against the rules? So whats the point of becoming largely successful if you can't use the leverage it gives you as a company?….American dream???????? America is becoming socialist!!

  12. I very much remember the Microsoft antitrust case. I was a Macintosh user back then, and IMHO I think the case was a particularly big deal to Mac users. Windows 9.x was ornery and prickly compared to Mac OS, and Apple was still in the process of getting back on its feet after a disastrous 1995-'96. Browsers I've used(been on the internet since 1996): Navigator 3.0 & 4.x, IE 5 for Mac OS, Firefox, Chrome.

  13. Now tech war has become Global ,In coming years its going to be China vs Big US tech industries. The China scare would make regulators not to touch these companies .

  14. IE is the most garbage browser and GAtes himself only added it after realizing how pivotal a feature it was. Also, Antitrust and then some is exactly what is needed. Shilling for Big Tech alongside shilling for wokeness certainly doesn't help your case in that you're fake news just like CNN, MSNPC.

  15. they gave internet browser for free – oh its a huge crime ,evil monopoly , how can they do that ? they should have charged thousands of dollars

  16. My favorite Internet Explorer was Internet Explorer 6. The one that was installed with Windows XP. Now that one I remember being just as good, if not better, than google chrome.

  17. It didn't "almost" become the default browser, it was. Obviously competing with free is quite difficult. But IE had good design as well. Netscape was bloated. IE was considerably simpler. It's too bad they threw it away by bloating it up with IE 7 – if they had just added a few little things and updated security, along with web standards, it would still be great.

    So if there's one good thing about it all…Microsoft made all web browsers free for everyone forever. Wow.

  18. An analogy I often think about is Microsoft is selling cars, the OS is a car. If people buy a car, it's already complete with seats, steering wheel, engine, chassis, etc. Netscape is selling steering wheels. and Netscape wanted Microsoft to stop bundling the steering wheel to their car, so people would buy the steering wheel as an add-on from Netscape, Microsoft or others. However, steering wheels shouldn't be optional and should be part of the finished product. A computer with internet connection is a form of communication which should be a basic human right, so no additional purchase should be made to access the internet. My two cents.

  19. The Mozilla project had begun before the Microsoft settlement (when Netscape made its abandoned Navigator 5 project open-source), but the first stable release of the Mozilla Suite happened in 2002, and Firefox would not be released until 2004 (after briefly being known, during its beta and alpha periods, under the names Firebird and Phoenix, before having to change those names because of trademark conflicts; there was also a Firefox Software at the time, but that company was okay with Mozilla releasing a browser under that name).

  20. Does anyone know, could Bill Gates have become the first trillionaire? It seems like he was on track during release of original xbox and xbox 360

  21. You never explained how Microsoft made it hard to install netscape and word perfect.
    As it stands, you've told us that microsoft offered us a product other companies were charging for $50 for free. And that we are still able to install competitor's software (as evidenced by how other companies like google chrome are still out competing microsoft). Why is this a bad thing?

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