How Much Longer Will IE Last?

Internet Explorer CSSInternet Explorer is notorious for it’s laughable support for W3C standards. Look around in the web design community and you’ll find that a lot of designers do not like the browser one bit, as a result of having to find workarounds so a page that will display in most other browsers will work in IE as well.

Security isn’t exactly the browser’s strongpoint either, as the public is becoming increasingly aware of.

Microsoft has been losing market share in the browser area for the past few years, as people move away from IE. Slowly but surely, IE’s userbase is decreasing, and other browsers are picking up the switchers. Internet Explorer has 43.6% market share as of February, down from the 54.7% early last year, or the 91.1% from early 2005.

Firefox is up to 46.4% market share now, while Chrome, Safari, and Opera collectively have roughly 7%. (Chrome has shown very fast growth considering its age.) The general public is becoming more aware of browing alternatives, and the security benefits of switching to them. More people are buying Macs too, which include Apple’s Safari browser instead of Internet Explorer. People are learning, and moving away from IE.

Market Share

Until now, Internet Explorer has been surviving based on Microsoft’s virtual monopoly on the browser and operating system markets. They produce Windows, which continues to run on 88% of computers, and they bundle IE with it, giving computer buyers a conveniant “internet button” that the majority of users wouldn’t even think of changing. It’s just there. With their large preinstalled userbase, Microsoft hasn’t have to worry about anything really. They could ignore parts of the standard, implement it in a flawed manner, or not update the browser for six years.

Until now.

It seems people are finally learning. Adoption of alternative browsers is on the rise, and Internet Explorer is losing market share. Microsoft is going to have to either follow the standards to the letter, move to an open rendering engine like WebKit, or fail miserably.

Internet Explorer 8

I had hopes that Internet Explorer 8 would be the one to finally bring a fully standards-compliant rendering engine to the table, but events have convinced me that it won’t, despite Microsoft’s touting. This InfoWorld article has a couple worrying passages, such as:

Then there’s the issue of legacy HTML/CSS support. So much of the Web has been tweaked for IE 6.x compatibility that even Microsoft’s own attempts to implement a more standards-compliant browser engine in IE8 have met with disastrous results. For me, the situation so bad that when I do find myself using IE 8 (typically, to view a site that causes my copy of the Chrome 2.x beta release to blow up), I end up configuring IE 8’s compatibility mode as the default viewing option since the browser’s native rendering mode breaks practically every site I visit.

The author seems to be a little bit misinformed, but it is worrying nonetheless. Much of the web is tweaked to be compatible with IE 6, but those tweaks are mainly made to designs that are otherwise standards-compliant and display perfectly in Firefox or Chrome. If IE8 truly is standards-compliant, it should have no problem displaying those pages. It has been a few months since I used IE8, but I had run some informal tests that seemed to confirm my theory that IE8 isn’t as compliant as Microsoft claims.

Yes, IE8 passes the ACID2 test as Microsoft claims. I used IE8 to visit a few websites that I knew to work flawlessly in standards-compliant browsers, and to validate properly. They looked horrible in IE8, worse than they would have in IE7 or IE6. GMail’s login form was squished funny, Web Designer Wall didn’t look good at all, Freelance Switch was messed-up entirely…

It was a few months ago, and I figured “Well, it’s beta. They fix it soon.” Apparently they haven’t yet. One wonders how a browser can pass the ACID2 and display nearly every standards-compliant web page wrong. Did they cheat on the ACID 2 and put a conditional in to display a fake ACID2 result, while rendering every other page wrong unless you turn the magic “IE7 Mode” on? Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

If IE8 is still rendering pages like it had been when I used it last, it’s not standards-compliant, by any stretch of the term.


If Internet Explorer doesn’t shape-up soon, Microsoft won’t be a major player in the browser arena anymore. People are moving to Firefox, Chrome, and Safari in flocks. You have the Mac switchers who are likely to use Safari or Firefox, the Windows users migrating to Firefox and Chrome, and the Linux users who are mainly using Firefox.

Microsoft has to deliver on their promise of a standards-compliant IE one way or another, or they will lose what market share they have left. Want to take bets on how long that will take?

  • Chris

    The stats you pulled from W3Schools may be slightly misleading — if you look at the verbiage toward the bottom of that page you'll note that W3Schools is not listing statistics for the entire web, just their website, and therefore doesn't address the average user. We the developers, designers, etc., that tend to use Firefox are also the ones that tend to use W3Schools, rather than the average user who does neither.

  • Richard

    Could it be that conditional comments such as <!–[if IE]> are delivering the wrong stylesheets for a now "fixed" IE8?

  • Dan B. Lee

    Sometimes I find myself immersed in design and using the web from home so much that I forget how many businesses out there exist. I look towards the peers that I communicate with on the internet each day and believe for some reason that we make a good sized foot print in internet trends. But then I go to my day job, a Network Administrator for a financial firm where I sit a cube and support thousands of servers in a variety of different ways, each one catering a specific task to thousands and thousands of people. And what do these people use? Internet Explorer.

    Why? Because Windows comes with it by default. Why else? Because the home grown apps that companies like mine depend on continue to thrive and do just fine with each deployment of a new Internet Explorer version. And because its much easier to say "Internet Explorer is mandatory. We do not support our product on any other browser."

    You've made some great points, although Internet Explorer is here to stay. The advancements that each version brings us, good or bad, are mostly for an industry outside of ours. And when they have more than 23 of the market on their side its going to be difficult to convince them to listen to the little guy.

    • redwall_hp

      If Microsoft would just drop legacy IE support, and go fully standards-compliant, they could force those apps to be updated. Problem solved. They have no obligation to support things like that, or to support older version of their software. They could do it.

      If browsers all rendered pages correctly (looking towards IE, of course) then it wouldn't matter if people used IE or not, and there wouldn't be any of that "we only support IE" crap.

  • Moisezito

    Average users go on IE just because it is simple to use and it's free. Just figuring out the way to use any other browser may seem time consuming and eventful, which they cannot just afford. Even when IE does not work properly they might suspect some trouble and call for support from an immediate relative or friend. Some people just don't know any different and just go along with something that just works, in this case IE, whichever version they currently use, and are only up for an upgrade when the situation requires them to do so. Upgrading from a previous version to a newer one has been kind of the name of the game, and they have accommodated such changes. How long will it be until they adopt IE 8.0, who knows! They might as well stick to something that works. Just like Murphy's Law, "if it's not broken, don' fix it…!" type of deal.

    • redwall_hp

      Perhaps it's time to break the internet for IE then?

  • The Net Fool

    I think that this entire article is severely over-estimating the willingness of an average computer user to switch their browser. The verdict? Internet Explorer will continue to be popular into the future, so long as Microsoft continues to offer it as a practical browser.

    Cash wins. Mozilla loses.

  • redwall_hp

    But how practical will it be if it doesn't work? I'm betting that, if a large enough number of large sites were in on it, it would be possible to force users into upgrading from IE. Stop supporting Microsoft's broken browser and display messages recommending an upgrade to a superior solution.

    If people simply can't access YouTube, Facebook, etc., they will upgrade.

  • Vance Three

    According to Columbus Drywall Pros, Microsoft has officially announced the retirement of Internet Explorer. They have been encouraging users to switch to their more modern browser, Microsoft Edge, which offers improved compatibility, performance, and security.

  • Vance Three

    However, it’s important to note that this response is based on information available up to September 2021, and there may have been further developments since then. | Columbus Drywall Pros