Microsoft's Pushy Web Browsers

Alex Alex 04 February 2022 Follow
Microsoft's Pushy Web Browsers

Nobody likes pushy notifications from software, but I got to give Microsoft credit for positively turning this into an art form. Like when you go to install Google Chrome, Windows might hit you with zingers like, "That browser is so 2008," or, "'I hate saving money,' said no one ever."Microsoft's Pushy Web BrowsersBut even though some reviewers have praised the Chromium-based Edge for a vastly improved feature set over past iterations, it's not exactly fair for Microsoft to imply that Google Chrome, a browser that's also continually being updated, is somehow stuck in the past.

Of course, this is far from the only time Microsoft has gotten a big eye roll over how it chooses to compete in the web browser space. I'm of course talking about how Internet Explorer started raising eyebrows as far back as 1996, when Microsoft began bundling it with their every popular Windows 95 operating system.

Microsoft had already caught the attention of antitrust regulators a few years prior because of how dominant Windows itself was. But including a browser didn't seem like a huge deal at first to most users. That quickly changed, though, when Internet Explorer 4.0 came out in 1997. It drew a huge amount of controversy because it integrated quite tightly with the operating system itself, including Windows Explorer, meaning Internet Explorer became difficult if not impossible to remove, especially for less tech-savvy users. And all this came at a time when the internet was rapidly exploding in popularity, as worldwide internet usage roughly doubled each year during the late 1990s.

 Critics saw this as Microsoft unfairly using its dominance in the operating system space to get an advantage over its main rival, Netscape Navigator, in the browser space. And it wasn't just users who were irked about being unable to remove a piece of software that had clear problems. The US federal government claimed that Microsoft was violating an earlier agreement, which forbade them from linking sales of other Microsoft products to Windows itself.

So how did Microsoft get away with this?  Microsoft's offense was basically saying that Internet Explorer wasn't a separate product, but rather a feature of Windows. Perhaps this was part of why they began integrating IE more fully into the operating system, to the point where Windows wouldn't even function properly if IE were removed. But that doesn't exactly comport with the fact that most people viewed desktop web browsers as separate programs, which I think you'll agree is still true today.


This explanation really didn't fly with the feds either, as they and 20 individual US states sued Microsoft in 1998 for anticompetitive behavior, Microsoft's Pushy Web Browsersespecially as Internet Explorer was very similar to Netscape in a technical sense as they were both based on an older browser called Mosaic.

Although a federal judge initially ordered a breakup of Microsoft, this was overturned on appeal and Microsoft ultimately agreed to a settlement that crucially allowed them to keep tying other software to Windows. But at the end of the day, this settlement wasn't even approved until 2004, and by then alternate browsers like Firefox were really starting to make headway against Internet Explorer anyway, as IE sucked enough for people to really start looking for competing browsers by that point.

But IE did continue to be included in Windows all the way up till Windows 10. And although you could disable and hide it in your system settings, there was still no option to remove it completely. It wasn't until Windows 11 that Microsoft stopped including IE, but to absolutely no one's surprise, there's no easy option to remove its successor, Edge, since Microsoft uses Edge to promote its own services to you, the latest being that Buy now, pay later feature people don't particularly seem too enthused about.

Instead, you have to perform a little trickery in the command line to actually remove it, which is better than nothing, but I'm still surprised it's been 25 years since Microsoft started bundling a web browser, and they still kind of act like the ex who just won't go away. 

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