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IE's Bad Reputation: Will Microsoft Rebrand?

Internet Explorer hasn't been able to shake its reputation as a buggy browser because users refuse to upgrade to cleaner versions -- despite their complaints. Microsoft says rebranding is on the table.

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Microsoft's last few versions of Internet Explorer have been relatively well received, buoyed partly by the company's increased investment in Web standards and developer support. Nevertheless, IE remains in many ways a tainted brand, with old, buggy, and less-secure versions overshadowing the progress in recent releases.

According to web tracking firm Net Applications, various versions of IE account for around 58% of all PC web traffic -- but only 28% of IE users (and only 16.9% of PC users overall) are using IE 11, the newest version. Over 44% of IE users rely on IE 8 or earlier. Compared to IE, rival browser Chrome has achieved almost double the market share growth over the last year.

Microsoft's IE team, then, faces a problem: Older, more proprietary versions of IE gave the browser its poor reputation, but even though newer editions are improved, many users continue to use -- and complain about -- the old versions. Thanks to this user fragmentation and upgrade inertia, IE's latest and greatest features aren't reaching a critical mass of users.

[Here's why one expert says you shouldn't worry: Facebook Will Track Shopping Habits.]

In a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session this week, IE engineer Jonathan Sampson admitted Microsoft has considered rebranding IE in order to distance the newest versions from old, criticized predecessors. The move has "been suggested internally," he wrote, adding, "Plenty of ideas get kicked around about how we can separate ourselves from negative perceptions that no longer reflect our product today."

Sampson said these internal debates will continue. "The discussion I recall seeing was a very recent one (just a few weeks ago). Who knows what the future holds," he wrote.

Internet Explorer pinata (image: Javier Aroche/Flickr).
Internet Explorer pinata (image: Javier Aroche/Flickr).

Industry watchers have been asking for years if IE's public image can be rehabilitated. For its part, Microsoft has embraced a variety of tactics to persuade users to upgrade from aging, less secure versions.  A few years ago, the company's "browser you loved to hate" campaign playfully addressed IE's lowly reputation while pointing out how newer versions had improved.

Since then, the pace of improvement has only hastened, a point IE engineers emphasized during the Reddit Q&A. This month's Patch Tuesday added new F12 developer tools, for instance. The company also plans to add support for more browser extensions, which could erase one of IE's most notable shortcomings compared to competitors such as Chrome and Firefox.

Microsoft recently announced that starting in 2016, it will release security updates only for the newest edition of IE on any given system. The company also recently said that starting next month, it will begin blocking outdated ActiveX plug-ins in IE. With many older versions of IE relatively vulnerable to cyber attacks, such moves could make Microsoft's browser more secure. Then again, Microsoft's attempts to convince Windows XP users to upgrade also have included frequent references to the superior security features found in its newest products. Despite Microsoft's campaign -- and four months without a security update -- around a quarter of PC users still rely on XP.

Microsoft has attempted to accommodate customers who can't easily upgrade. During the Q&A, for example, one developer pointed out that IE 11 includes an Enterprise Mode that allows businesses to use a sandboxed environment to safely run old line-of-business apps built for IE 8.

CEO Satya Nadella has said that one way Microsoft will get customers to use the latest versions of its products is to provide that software on more platforms -- such as Office for iPad. And yet when asked during the Reddit session whether IE for iOS or Android was in the pipeline, the IE team replied, "Right now, we're focused on building a great mobile browser for Windows Phone." Microsoft supports some IE development in OS X but has not released a version of the browser for Macs in more than a decade.

You can hear more about this article on this week’s episode of InformationWeek Radio. We’ll be talking with the author at 2:00 PM EDT on Tuesday, August 26 — we hope you’ll join us! Register here.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Author
8/19/2014 | 1:42:21 PM
Re: IE "the afterthought"
Fair point. Many people have had to use IE because it gets along better with some corporate-mandated program or another. I know I have.
User Rank: Moderator
8/19/2014 | 12:13:48 PM
Re: IE "the afterthought"
@Mark Not to mention the fact that widespread adoption of Microsoft products like SharePoint often force people to go to IE, at least temporarily. If there's one thing I hate, it's being forced to use a substandard browser just because they've adopted another service or technology from the same company. 
User Rank: Moderator
8/19/2014 | 11:32:53 AM
Re: IE "the afterthought"
IE is a total nightmare and changing its name is not going to help. On XP I can't move past IE8. On Windows 7, I am at IE11 which has less compatibility than 10 did - we actually had to change to Chrome because our primary SIS website worked great in IE10 with compatibility mode but not in IE11.

Plus half of the sites that do work, work slowly. Microsoft blames the website authors.. (paraphrasing) "if they would just write HTML5-only code our browser would be really fast"  well, gee, perhaps you should work on a browser that runs fast in the real world, not some future perfect world. 

I hate that IE makes everything so difficult. It seems I am always having to change to to compatibility mode manually (which is not a one-click operation - the torn-paper icon was removed in IE11). I don't seem to ever hit sites that are on their automatic list and with all the status info now gone I can't even easily tell if I am on comaptibility mode or not.

The status bar now no longer shows any status except scaling. Did you know with IE11 you have to right-click on the page and select properties just to find out what zone you are in?

We are switching to Chrome simply because it works in most situations automatically - not all situations though.. I really do wish website authors would get their stuff together. My Firewall website requires both IE and Chrome running simultaneously, because different portions of it only work in one but not the other.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 7:37:15 PM
there's your problem
>IE 11 includes an Enterprise Mode that allows businesses to use a sandboxed environment to safely run old line-of-business apps built for IE 8.

Too bad you can't sandbox IT people who refuse to modernize line-of-business apps.
User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 2:29:11 PM
Re: IE's buggy reputation was earned
Chrome is on version 36.

Firefox is on version 31.


I'm surprised there are so few version of IE.

User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 2:26:12 PM
IE and Microsoft's Mistake
Microsoft's biggest mistake was not allowing multiple versions of IE to be installed at the same time.  I know they made a lot of claims that it was part of the OS but now that it's Monday morning, this play was a huge mistake.

If XP customers had been able to keep their old, incompatible, bug-ridden and security nightmare version of IE AND install the latest and greatest version of IE, web-developers would have a lot more pleasant feelings toward Microsoft and IE.
User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 1:57:20 PM
Not that easy
Many of you are way oversimplifying this issue for business. If you are consumer, then yeah, use whatever browser blows your dress up.

At our company, it is an application hell for browsers. I'm writing Ext JS apps which don't work worth a darn unless you get to IE 9. I test them in Chrome also because debugger is superior. One of my apps is a dashboard which runs in a continuous loop, making server calls every 30 seconds. No version of IE will work for more than a couple hours before IE crashes. I actually had to put Chrome on an Win 7 embedded thin client, which is not a desirable thing to do. But Chrome will run it for a day at least, allowing me to reboot brick once a night to clean things up.

So just go to Chrome across the board, you say. Well, we also use Sharepoint, the WSS 3.0 variety. That runs in IE Quirks mode, good luck getting Chrome or Firefox to render that stuff correctly. I'm hoping upgrade to SP 2013 foundation services makes it play better in modern browsers.

Then you have some of SaaS apps that Corp uses. Upgrading to newer version of IE seems to trip some of them up. And they don't work in Quirks mode either. You've got to go into IE Developer tools and change emulation back to IE9/10, not something easily explained to users.

It is a nightmare but solution not to always run latest version of IE or go to Chrome/Firefox. You'll fix some stuff and break some stuff, I don't see a way around it. At least right now.
User Rank: Strategist
8/18/2014 | 1:41:24 PM
Re: IE "the afterthought"
The reason you may not have noticed updates is they are happening secretly in the background. Open task scheduler or services and you'll find Chrome has installed "Google Update Service" and some scheduled tasks. Assuming the OS is supported, being tied to the OS should really be an advantage from an end user's point of view, because there is just one update process to contend with. Separate updates for Windows, Java, Flash, Adobe are annoying interruptions and end users want to get by with as little delay as possible. What does the Firefox (option) say... "No thanks I'll risk it"?

I was in an airport a couple of years ago and watched a woman's reaction to the Adobe Flash update panel that appears after a reboot - she was utterly confused as to what it even meant. I can't fathom why Oracle tries to slip in the Ask Toolbar everytime you update Java. Not to mention all the Web pop-ups that pretend to be system updates.... IMHO, one good thing about an update that is tied to an OS (or App Store) is the user doesn't have to trust so many different companies and people messing with their PC.

User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 1:16:07 PM
Rebranding won't work
It might confuse people, but most likely, the change will be so widely publicized that most everyone will know that Brand X is just the new name for IE and things will continue as before.

It seems to me that the real problem is that MS keeps trying to tie new versions of IE to new versions of Windows as an upgrade incentive.  Those who choose not to upgrade, or not to upgrade right away, thus have the choice of either continuing to use an obsolete version of IE or switching to a browser that doesn't care so much what version of Windows (or Linux, or OSX, etc) it runs on.

User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 12:56:40 PM
Compatibility Mode forever?
When almost all the websites I visit require that they need to be viewed using IE's compatibility mode, way not just switch to a different browser where the site works just fine?  I'm sure many have just done this such as myself and never went back to IE.
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