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HTG Explains: Why Do So Many Geeks Hate Internet Explorer?

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It’s common knowledge that almost every single geek hates Internet Explorer with a passion, but have you ever wondered why? Let’s take a fair look at the history and where it all began… for posterity, if nothing else.

Contrary to what you might think, this article is not meant to be a hate-fest on Internet Explorer—in fact, since IE 9, they have continued to improve the performance, add new features, and generally make it standards-compliant.

In the Beginning There Was IE, and It Was Good?

We’ve all been so used to thinking of Internet Explorer as that slow, buggy browser that is behind the times, but it wasn’t always that way—in fact, way back when, Internet Explorer pioneered many innovations that made the web what it is today.

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Here’s a quick tour through the easily forgotten history of the infamous browser:

1996: Internet Explorer 3
This version of the browser, introduced in 1997, was the first browser to implement CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Yes, you’re reading that correctly—in fact, it introduced many new features like Java applets and sadly, ActiveX controls.

1997: Internet Explorer 4
IE4 introduced a blazing fast (at the time) rendering engine as an embeddable component that could be used in other applications—this was a lot more important than people realize. This version also introduced Dynamic HTML, which allows web pages to dynamically change the page using JavaScript, and added Active Desktop integration.

Even more weird? Seems like nobody remembers this anymore, but IE4 was actually cross-platform—you could install it on Mac OS, Solaris, and HP-UX—and by the time IE5 was released, IE4 had reached a 60 percent market share.

1999: Internet Explorer 5.x
Microsoft invented Ajax. Wait… what? That’s right, it was this version of IE that introduced the XMLHttpRequest feature in JavaScript, which forms the underlying technology behind every web application you’re using today—you know, like Gmail. Of course, the term “Ajax” wasn’t actually coined until years later by somebody other than Microsoft, but this release supported everything required to make it work.

So Yes, Microsoft Innovated
From IE3 until IE6, Microsoft used all their resources to simply out-innovate the competition, releasing new features and better browsers faster than Netscape. In fact, Netscape 3 Gold was a buggy piece of junk that crashed all the time, and Netscape 4 was extremely slow and could barely render tables—much less CSS, which would often cause the browser to crash.

To put it in context: web developers used to complain about Netscape the same way they complain about IE6 now.

What Made It Go So Very Wrong?

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The trouble all started when Microsoft integrated IE into Windows as a required component, and made it difficult to uninstall and use an alternate browser. Then there was the whole business with them exploiting their monopoly to try and push Netscape out of the market, and a lot of people started to view Microsoft as the evil empire.

Microsoft Stopped Trying
By the time Microsoft released Internet Explorer 6 in 2001, complete with lots of new features for web developers, since there was no competition and they had a 95 percent market share, Microsoft just stopped trying—seriously, they did nothing for five years even after Firefox was released, and geeks started migrating left and right.

Microsoft-Specific Features
The whole problem with Microsoft’s innovation is that much of it was done in ways that didn’t follow the web standards—this wasn’t as big of a problem when Internet Explorer was the only game in town, but once Firefox and Webkit came around and started following the standards correctly, suddenly it became a huge problem for web developers.

Security Holes and Crashing
Since Microsoft decided they didn’t need to try anymore, and they didn’t keep up with the competition from Firefox and other browsers, bugs and security holes just cropped up left and right—really terrible ones, too. For instance, this code is all that is required to crash IE6:

<script>for(x in document.write){document.write(x);}</script>

In fact, the screenshot at the beginning of this section was a live example of testing out this particular bug.

IE7 and IE8 Were Too Little, Too Late
It took five years after IE6 for Microsoft to finally get around to releasing IE7, which added tabs and made the browser slightly more tolerable, but for web designers it was still a nightmare to deal with, and only complicated the issue since now you had to make pages render correctly in two lousy browsers instead of just one.

It took another 2.5 years for Microsoft to finally release Internet Explorer 8, which greatly improved CSS support for web developers, and added new features like Private browsing, tab isolation to prevent one bad page from taking down the whole browser, and phishing protection. By this point, most geeks had already moved on to Firefox, and then some of us to Google Chrome.

Here’s the Real Reason Geeks Hate IE

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Just because we’re geeks doesn’t mean we hate everything that’s inferior and outdated—in fact, we often love retro computing—that’s why we love Atari, NES, Commodore 64, etc. We take pride in our geek knowledge. So why’s Internet Explorer a different story?

Here are a couple of reasons that fueled our hatred of the buggy browser, and finally put us all over the edge:

Supporting IE is Like a Fork in the Eye for Web Devs
Here’s a sample of a day in the life of a web designer: You spend hours making sure that your page looks great, and you test it out in Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and even Opera. It looks great, awesome!

Now you open up IE and the page looks like somebody put it into a blender and hit the Whip button. Then you spend double the amount of time trying to fix it to look tolerable in IE6 and IE7, cursing loudly the entire time.

Luckily by 2014, Internet Explorer 6 and 7 are a statistical anomaly in actual Internet usage, and most of the bigger websites have completely stopped supporting them. Even Internet Explorer 8 usage has dropped to single-digit percentages for many websites.

Geeks Being Forced to Use Internet Explorerimage
And here’s where we come to the real issue—the whole reason that geeks can’t stand Internet Explorer:

Geeks everywhere were forced to use Internet Explorer at work even when there are better browsers, forced to support it for corporate applications, forced to make sure web sites still work in IE, and we couldn’t convince everybody to switch to a better browser.

Geeks don’t hate something that’s inferior—but they do hate it when it’s forced on them.

The Good News: The Future Is Brighter for IE

Thankfully, it seems like Microsoft has finally learned from their many, many mistakes in the browser world. Internet Explorer 10 and 11 are blazing fast, mostly standards-compliant, and other than the outdated UI that really needs some love, are a solid choice for anybody. There are even rumors that Microsoft might finally release a better user interface for IE in Windows 10. Here’s hoping!

In fact, based on our recent testing, a lot of the new malware isn’t even targeting Internet Explorer anymore, because writing plugins for IE is a complicated thing, whereas writing some quick HTML and JavaScript code to make spying adware extensions for Firefox or Chrome is really easy.

It’s a whole new world, and Chrome, rather than IE, is the target.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/11/14

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  • Rick P.

    Once it was really easy to code Browser Web Sites and Pages.

    Now when I look at Browser Page Source Code, I'm completely lost ! ! frowning

    Big difference between the early 2000s and now OR maybe I just didn't keep up after retirement. (LOL)

  • Jeremiah Klein

    Hmmm. I'm still partial to Firefox.

  • Dinsdale56

    "Internet Explorer 10 and 11 are blazing fast..."

    Not so much IMHO. YMMV. wink

  • Adrian Kentleton

    You are not the only person who thinks Firefox is best: http://internet-browser-review.toptenreviews.com/

  • campbell2644

    Still sticking with Firefox. It's done me proud for many years and still seems ahead of the pack

  • John Geldreich

    Yeah, no kidding! I have to support IE 11 at work, and it crashes 90% of the time on first boot.

  • Yu0

    @Firefox: Sadly not much of an option if you own an iPad and want zero-knowledge encryption for syncing tabs, history and bookmarks. Also Firefox still uses only bicubic image scaling, which is just not enough (blurry), if your screen resolution mandates viewing webpages at anything other than 100% zoom.

    I understand their unwillingness to release a Firefox for iOS, when it would be forced to be only a different shell for safari's mobile engine. But really, not being on iOS is probably hurting Firefox more than Apple and I really only need such a shell and nothing else.

    @IE: Sadly it is still used as exclusive platform for some enterprise webapps. The university where I'm doing my PhD runs several employee services (like holiday-applications) over a platform that supports only IE and won't function in anything else. Adding insult to injury, until recently the running version wouldn't work in anything newer than IE9. Note that Microsoft doesn't exactly make downgrading IE or installing a second version in parallel easy. So, yes, being forced to use IE, even though some institutes use Linux exclusively.

  • Richard Gordon

    I didn't realize that Microsoft had ended support for Vista until a friend came to me with a laptop that had been hacked into a frozen state. After I spent about 8 hours trying to regain control of the OS...I started to see this resilient virus that I couldn't seem to get rid of, named "Astromenda". Many hours and virus scans later I discovered that Astromenda was hiding in the weakest part of the Vista OS - namely Internet Explorer!It seems that the authors of Astromenda have exploited the fact that MS will no longer provide security updates for Vista...and knowing that IE is tightly tied to the OS...they are attacking at this point.I suspect Microsoft themselves are the creators or at the very least supporters of Astromenda -- in their never-ending march to sell Vista owners Windows 8 or later. Boy, things have really changed since Bill Gates gave up the reins of Microsoft!

  • Robin Hahn

    Did the same exercise as you did twice on a friend's laptop - same OS, same browser - but am not as patient as you are, so I've installed an OS (and browser) I'm hoping she can't bork. Hint: neither OS nor browser were developed in Redmond. smile

  • Dinsdale56

    Ummm...no. M$ ended support for Vista with no SP's or SP1 only... extended support for Vista with SP2 installed ends April 11, 2017. Source: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/lifecycle

  • CJ Hardy

    http://www.netmarketshare.com/browser-market-share.aspx?qprid=2&qpcustomd=0

    And STILL, after "x" years of almost every geek everywhere patiently (or not-so-patiently) explaining why NOT to use I.E.... Still the most used by a ridiculous margin. An equally incredible percentage still think Norton or McAfee is the best/most trustworthy antivirus, and that Cnet Download.com is where you go for good free programs, and that not opening an email if you don't know who sent it will keep you "safe". A huge number of users still think they are not "online" if their browser is closed!

    It gets worse, brothers and sisters... MANY people still use/love/trust AOL email.

    Internet superstitions and old wives tales, that live on through ignorance, inertia, intellectual laziness, resistance to change... Who knows all the reasons? But it's particularly amazing to me how strong a good rep can be, years or even decades after it has ceased to be earned.

  • Brawdan

    I LOVE IE11!!! Why? because I don't download and install every freaking add-on I come across! If IE is crashing its because YOU installed something that is crashing it!Anytime a client complains its running slow the first thing i do is uninstall/disable all add-ons and then run a mbam scan.Boom! fixed!Also if you have a site that isn't using current code, it is super easy to fix, just add it to the compatibility list! or uninstall IE, it will roll back to the last version. Boom! fixed!Of course it will later update to the most current version (IE11, soon IE12 with win10) But why would you want to use an outdated insecure browser? Perhaps instead of hating on IE for forcing you to be up to date and secure in your coding, You need to be up to date and secure in your coding!!! You should thank Microsoft for trying to keep end users safe by forcing websites to use current more secure coding!But, Windows greatest success is also its greatest flaw. It has to support all the poorly coded crapware lazy developers barf out.

  • The early versions of Internet Explorer were based on Mosaic from NCSA at the University of Illinois-Urbana. One of the early developers was Marc Andreesen. He left NCSA to found Netscape. For a while both Netscape and Explorer had code written by Andreesen. For several versions of Explorer, the About file contained a note that parts of the core code was licensed to Microsoft by NCSA. Netscape is gone. Andreesen is rich. IE is still a crappy browser. I use every browser to test my work. There is probably a zero day exploit lurking in all of them.

  • Gary Barrett

    ... using IE 11 for a long time and it's very fast.

  • Robert Turnicky

    Tried IE 10.It was ok until I selected using recomended settings,then stopped working,using Windows 7.Returned to IE 9

  • Alan Biggly

    Never mind IE, how does one use this website? Where is the article the headline refers to?

  • Vincent Boswell

    Click on the URL after the "Originally published at:..." above the graphic.

  • Vitrbjorn

    I call Internet Explorer the Internet Exploder, 99% downtime, when it does run it allows anything and everything to bypass the security programs we so lovingly install to keep our computers running clean. I have ZoneAlarm Firewall on my computers and using the ability to block programs i block utterly IE from getting on the net. I would love to have not had to actually hack it out of the registry and off the OS in XP. Why do we have no choice in the browser we can run here M$? Yes, I am being insulting of Microsoft since they are insulting us with a browser that allows anything to install itself and slide right past our security programs. I am certain the viruses we fight so hard to keep off, is produced by Microsoft so we have to keep updating their poorly made operating systems. I have actually done some patching to their KERNAL myself and I have had no problems afterwards. If you can work UNIX and LINUX you can fix Windows.

  • Vitrbjorn

    Why would you think a browser that will install everything even if you tell it not to, is secure? I use IceDragon by Comodo and Dragon by Comodo, Gecko and WebKit rendering engines, I have not seen a secure Trident based browser; ever.

    You do not have to install a add-on if you don't want it, unlike IE which will install any and every known virus, trojan, worm, spyware, malware, adware, ECT just by landing on a website.

    If you have to uninstall your current version of IE because of anything, it is not secure. Run IE with all add-ons disabled if they bother you. When I first got on the net years back, IE was a nightmare, I have been online since before win95. It still is a nightmare that needs to be removed>

    Anyone know where I can get a European version of Windows where I can opt out of having Internet Exploder installed?

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