File Under: Browsers

Like the Web Today? Thank Internet Explorer

IE logos through the ages. Images: Microsoft.

It’s the web browser developers love to hate, but while Internet Explorer may have gone through some dark times — IE 6, 7 and 8, we’re looking at you — Microsoft’s once ubiquitous browser deserves some credit for more than a few things web developers take for granted today.

Ajax, the Document Object Model (DOM) and CSS are all things that early versions of Internet Explorer helped to popularize.

Developer Nicholas Zakas, formerly the front-end tech lead for the Yahoo homepage, recently posted a look back at the innovations of Internet Explorer. Zakas’ post serves as a reminder (or a history lesson for those of you that weren’t around to experience it firsthand) of the good things Internet Explorer did before Microsoft essentially abandoned it for 10 years. As Zakas writes:

Sometimes it’s hard to remember all of the good that Internet Explorer did before Internet Explorer 6 became the scourge of web developers everywhere. Believe it or not, Internet Explorer 4-6 is heavily responsible for web development as we know it today. A number of proprietary features became de facto standards and then official standards with some ending up in the HTML5 specification. It may be hard to believe that Internet Explorer is actually to thank for a lot of the features that we take for granted today, but a quick walk through history shows that it’s true.

For the skeptics, here’s a thought exercise: try to imagine the web without XMLHttpRequest or innerHTML. How about CSS, do you like CSS? Netscape’s plan was to handle styling with JavaScript. CSS was an independent effort lead by (now) Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie, but IE 3 was the first major browser to support it.

We’re not going to argue that lingering ancient versions of IE aren’t something of scourge on web today, but sometimes it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t always that way. In fact IE’s main failing is simply that it stopped innovating.

For some more examples of what IE gave the web be sure to read through Zakas’s entire post, which has copious reference links at the bottom for anyone who’d like to dig deeper into the history of the early web.