Is it the end of an era for Internet Explorer?

Heidi Sugababe
Heidi. Like Internet Explorer.

On the face of it, Internet Explorer doesn't have much in common with Sugababes: IE isn't beautiful, doesn't sing and isn't likely to dress in a primary-coloured PVC dominatrix outfit to perform at G-A-Y.

However, they're not as different as you might think.

I'm serious. Both were big in 2003, and both have seen their popularity slide dramatically ever since. In 2003, Hole In The Head sold 145,000 copies and the album Three went double platinum, selling 855,000 copies; meanwhile Internet Explorer dominated the browser charts with a staggering 95% market share.

Now, though, Sugababes struggle to sell any records at all - their latest album, Sweet 7, sold sweet F. A. - and IE's market share is in steep decline.

In October, IE's global market share dipped below 50% for the very first time.

Like Sugababes, IE hasn't given up the ghost yet - it still commands 52.63% of desktop browsing, although that share's dropping too - but like Sugababes it's clear that younger rivals have taken its place in the charts.

In the case of Sugababes that's a shame, but in the case of IE it's excellent news - for all of us.

Catfights and spotlights

In 2003, IE looked invincible. Websites told you to use IE or get stuffed, and Microsoft's attitude to the browser wars appeared to be "We won! Time for bed!" IE6 was already two years old, and Microsoft didn't seem too keen on updating it. In fact, the next version of IE wouldn't ship until 2006.

If IE6 had been perfect, that wouldn't have been a problem. But it wasn't - and in tech, if something isn't perfect then sooner or later somebody comes along with a better idea. In this case, the better idea was Firefox. While IE development stagnated, Mozilla stocked up on Red Bull and released browser after browser after browser.

Firefox's strategy reminds me of the Jack Handey quote: "What he had accomplished was a brilliant piece of strategy. First, he punched me. Then, he kicked me. Then, he punched me again."

Firefox gave IE a good punching for several years, and since then others have joined in too - most notably Chrome, which is currently doing to Firefox what Firefox did to IE.

It's easy to forget just how volatile the tech industry can be. Many of the things I used to depend on - CompuServe, AltaVista, HotBot, RealPlayer - are long gone, or reduced to shadows of their former selves.

Many of the things I rely on today - Google, iPhones, mobile broadband and cloud computing - are relatively recent arrivals. In 2003, IE looked like it'd rule the web forever; now, it's just another browser.

Whether you're a tech firm gloating about your current world domination or an observer wondering just how evil a site or service needs to become before everybody jumps ship, IE5's decline should be a reminder: Tech dominance, like chart success or membership of Sugababes, is strictly temporary.


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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.