Internet Explorer has influenced Windows to some extent and even changed the way we connect to our data files. At the same time, its also paved the way for plenty of problems on the security front.
Sure, Netscape and Mosaic came first. But which browser are you using to read this column? Most likely its Internet Explorer.
Nevertheless, the era should be called the "Browser Decade" and not for IE. For if Mosaic hadnt changed the world, how long it would have taken Microsoft to do a browser of its own.
Lets consider an alternate history, one in which the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) in Urbana-Champaign never invented its Mosaic browser.
Microsoft was a relative late arrival to the Internet after all, working as it was on getting Windows 95 out the door. If Netscape, son of Mosaic, hadnt been going gangbusters, would Microsoft have produced IE when it did? Probably not.
And if IE had been delayed, might it have ended up a better piece of software?
Id like to think so. But, while IE has been a huge success, its also caused more problems than any piece of software that wasnt an operating system. Since Microsoft has variously alleged that IE is part of the OS, the distinction may actually be moot.
Certainly, Internet Explorer could top the list as the least-secure major piece of software released in the last decade. Theres no standards group measuring such things as far as I know, so Im giving it top "honors" by guesstimate. But, its fair to say IE has done more than its share to enable various Internet rip-offs, like phishing, and to enable Internet annoyances, like pop-up advertising.
On this front, it might be kind to say that IE was introduced in a simpler, more-naïve time. But you can also say Microsoft has been painfully slow to make the Internet a secure place for its customers. Thats what next years Internet Explorer 7 is supposed to be about, but Ill reserve judgment until the bad guys have had their shot at it.
Predictions that the browser would become the universal interface, a desktop UI version of Esperanto, have fallen short. And the longer it goes, the less likely it is to happen. Sure, the browser metaphor has changed how we look at the file system, but that will change again as Microsoft and Apple move to a search-based file system (in Windows Vista and OS X Tiger, respectively).
Browsers have not impacted the look-and-feel of applications nearly as much as they have the file system. This transformation was supposed to happen in two ways: Web-based applications and Java. The first is still a work in progress, while Java has probably been the underachiever of the decade.