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RIP Internet Explorer, Old Friend
A moment’s silence for the passing at age 25 of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s unloved web browser.
Only Clippy, their relentless animated MS Office help assistant, sucked more. Yet now the thought of Internet Explorer takes you back to a golden, simpler time with your friends Tom from MySpace, Keyboard Cat and the Fail Whale.
It was an era when you’d go on the web for an hour or two as a focused fun time. Rather than it controlling your every thought and movement, from your morning alarm to your final needy scan through your socials in bed.
What a time for Microsoft, when they basically owned your personal computer and controlled that whole experience. Vast global currents of cash flowed their way.
That swagger was fully on show in this can’t-be-unseen video of Bill Gates, then-CEO Steve Ballmer and others on stage at the Windows 95 launch.
In reflection, that could have been the specific moment when the wheels started to fall off the 100%-white, straight men model of corporate management. Sure, rhythm isn’t an essential executive skill, but this is surely the whitest business moment ever captured on video.
Plus – you will think I’m making this up – Internet Explorer 8 came with a free Nickelback download. Of a track not good enough to be on a Nickelback album.
The Copies That Outlasted The Originals
In many ways Internet Explorer and Nickelback were the same. They both saw a product with both street cred and commercial success – Netscape Navigator and Nirvana respectively. They copied those products to the best of their ability, and found a market.
Both copy products outlived the originals by decades. Nickelback are still working. If you want analysis of how product suckiness can be a legit business model, it’s here in Success Lessons Of The Bin Chicken:
“(Nickelback) take an entire Internet’s worth of abuse and turn it into music’s greatest free publicity machine. Like Godzilla, every attack just makes them grow bigger.”
I’m not saying be Nickelback. But owning the original idea isn’t essential. Sometimes a tweaked copy is enough for success. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the MP3 player.
Nothing Is Permanent
The end of Internet Explorer is a handy reminder that nothing is permanent in business. Whatever market you’re in, it’s easy to give up when you have a monolithic, pervasive competitor. It feels like they’re going to own the whole market for the next thousand years.
Then one day they don’t.
Sure, in the case of web browsers, Internet Explorer has largely been replaced by Chrome from a newer giant predator, Google.
But further down the food chain, if you were any kind of IT provider in the 90s, you would have based all your plans around eternal Microsoft domination.
When you make long-term plans, don’t assume anything is eternal.
If your sales are 100% based on Facebook now, don’t assume you can ride that train forever.
You might have a successful business making cool peripherals for the creative people who love Apple. Creatives might not love Apple forever.
If your business depends entirely on say, work with airlines or hotels, you know what I’m talking about.
Hedge your risks and assume nothing is permanent.
From Mr Monopoly To Mr Public Health
This is also an interesting lesson in brand perception.
In the late 90s Microsoft was the target of a major US government anti-trust investigation. Specifically over Internet Explorer, which came pre-installed in every copy of Windows.
The judge ruled Microsoft had ‘committed monopolization’ and ordered the company be broken up. The decision was later overturned on appeal, but the monopolist image stuck.
How the game has changed. Bill Gates is a world leader in public health philanthropy.
Microsoft is a sensibly-managed business, bigger and more successful than it ever was. Without undermining democracy worldwide or snuffing out all competition like other major players in that field.
The anti-trust wagon is starting to roll again. Last week US House lawmakers released a report after a 16-month investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. They recommend breaking up the companies and passing the most sweeping reforms to antitrust laws in decades.
Microsoft wasn’t even on their radar.
There’s still hope for Nickelback. Show us the data, Chad.
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Also if you liked this story, why not read this:
(It’s two years old and just noticed there’s a recommendation you should read more Sarah Cooper. From before she became a global Trump clip sensation. Classic hipster ‘I was into her back when when she was underground’ flex.)