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August 17, 2023 · 21 min read

Season 4, Ep. 26 – TWiTH: Internet Explorer wants to be your default, with

When it comes to programs asking if you want to use them as a default, nobody did it better than Internet Explorer. On This Week in Tech History, Chris and Abbey talk about the company’s decision to include the browser in the release of Windows 95, and the implications it had for internet access, bloatware of the future, and when exactly Hotmail addresses will me making a comeback.


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Abbey (00:05):

So you guys are coming up here for Labor Day weekend?

Chris (00:09):

Yeah, and hopefully looking at some houses while we’re there. (Abbey: Nice.) Yeah. Hopefully looking at some breweries, too, or something.

Abbey (00:16):

Yes. I was maybe gonna go, I have a friend who’s coming in town from Colorado, and by “in town”, I mean like, somewhere near Atlanta. (Chris: <Laugh>.) So probably not heading down there. This is a better reason now to not go. (Chris: Yeah <laugh>.) Okay, sick. You’ll be in town.

Chris (00:35):

That’s a drive. That’s how far is Atlanta?

Abbey (00:39):

Three hours.

Chris (00:41):

Oh, that’s not bad.

Abbey (00:41):

Not terrible. Yeah. I think we’re gonna go camping in Tennessee this weekend.

Chris (00:48):


Abbey (00:49):

Yeah, we do something…so I guess when you go, I don’t know if this is the same for all armed forces, but when you go into the Navy, you leave the same day that you went in. (Chris: Ah.) So August 19th is Chris’s Navy-versary, so we always try and do something for it.

Chris (01:07):

That’s cool.

Abbey (01:08):

And we haven’t been camping since we got back from our road trip, so we’re gonna go for it.

Chris (01:14):

Is that just like, custom or is that the like, SOP is you have to leave on the day you came in.

Abbey (01:21):

I don’t know. My understanding is that it’s SOP for the Navy, at least.

Chris (01:25):

So every year on the 19th, you’re like, it’s like, “Well, got another 364 days.”

Abbey (01:32):

Yep. Well, I mean, that’s for the one year. So he went in and six years later left on his, yeah.

Chris (01:41):

Yeah. Well, I know, but it is like, “Oh, I’m in for at least another,” <laugh> “364 days.”

Abbey (01:48):

They’re like, “Sorry. No chance you’re getting out early.”

Chris (01:50):

Yeah, exactly.

Abbey (01:52):

Yeah. All things good this weekend. It rained a lot here, which is nice. It means I don’t have to water.

Chris (01:58):

It was so hot yesterday. I think it was 91. I went for a run at 9:00 last night, and it was 91 degrees.

Abbey (02:07):

It was still in the high 80s here. It was really hot. And we went for that hike. We got there at like, 9:00. So it wound up being like, pretty hot on the way down, but hiking downhill is fine when it’s hot out, and I’m not as sore as I thought I would be. My knees didn’t give up on me, which (Chris: That’s good.) I’m very happy for.

Chris (02:33):

The downhill will getcha. It’ll get your knees.

Abbey (02:35):

I learned a new technique for walking downhill, which makes sense if you think about it. You wanna step heel first. The tendency is to like, put your toes down first (Chris: Yeah.) as you’re going downhill, but your heel should be taking the brunt of the force.

Chris (02:52):

That’s interesting. That’s like, the exact opposite of running. (Abbey: Yes <laugh>.) <Laugh>. (Abbey: Yup.) So I can see that being confusing.

Abbey (03:02):

I was thinking about that while I was walking downhill. I was like, “This isn’t how you’re supposed to run,” but it is how you’re supposed to hike.

Chris (03:09):

I mean, maybe downhill. I haven’t actually looked, I mean, I’ve read all sorts of stuff about like, pacing and like, how to conserve energy uphill versus downhill. I’ve never even considered like, footfall being different downhill. Add it to the list.

Abbey (03:28):

Yeah. Get another YouTube video on it.

Chris (03:32):

Yeah <laugh>

Abbey (03:32):

Just kind of like a…yeah. It’s weird when you’re used to like, doing something the same way for 40 years, (Chris: Yeah.) being conscientious of how you’re walking is very strange.

Chris (03:45):

That’s very zen of you.

Abbey (03:47):

Yeah <laugh>. I had to focus on something <laugh>.

Chris (03:51):

Yeah <laugh>.

Abbey (03:53):

Well, Chris, we’re here today. We are hoping that this is the third charming time for this podcast recording, and timely, because we are actually doing it the week of This Week in Tech History. (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES IN) Today, we’re talking about how Internet Explorer wants to be your default. So this one’s kind of a two for one. They were two events that happened one year right after another. So the first one was August 6th, 1994. A developer from Microsoft by the name of Benjamin Slivka sent out a companywide email suggesting that they include a browser in the upcoming release of Windows 95. On August 15th of the following year, that became a reality when they released Internet Explorer and Windows 95. (DIAL UP TONE AND ROCK MUSIC PLAYS AND FADES OUT)

Abbey (04:49):

(RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC RESUMES IN BACKGROUND) As the Internet grew, Microsoft’s strategic move to bundle Internet Explorer gave millions of users easy access to web browsing, but because they had contracted with Spyglass to license technology for Internet Explorer, there was a huge legal battle over it. Spyglass assumed they should have more control over what they provided to Microsoft. The lawsuit highlighted the relationship between innovation, competition, and intellectual property. They argued that the bundling of Internet Explorer exceeded their licensing agreements. Apparently, a judge agreed, or they didn’t even get to that phase because Microsoft settled for $8 million. I didn’t put it into the calculator, but $8 million in 1995 is significant today. That’s one of my favorite things is finding out how much these things are actually worth today with inflation.

Chris (05:45):

As long as you’re not like, looking to buy a house. But other than that, (Abbey: Yeah.) it’s really interesting <laugh>.

Abbey (05:53):

Yeah. As long as you’re not on the path you’re on, Chris, trying to buy a house. (Chris: Yeah.) The events’ significance extend beyond the rise of Internet Explorer and web browsing, kind of brought together legal complexities that were starting to pop up with internet companies bundling software. This was like, really early in the game. I think that a lot of it is stuff we’re used to these days. But yeah, just kind of served as a legacy as a reminder between like, what the balance is between technical progress, legal frameworks. How do you regulate ongoing exploration building tech that doesn’t exist? (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES OUT)

Chris (06:40):

So I looked into it, mostly because I feel like every fourth episode of this show talks about how Bill Gates and Microsoft were involved in a lawsuit. (Abbey: Yeah <laugh>.) So I believe, and I could be totally wrong, but I believe that this was the only antitrust lawsuit that Microsoft has had. (Abbey: Really?) The rest of them, I believe there are six. I think there are six IP lawsuits, but I think this is the only antitrust one.

Abbey (07:22):

The one with Apple and the one with Apple and Microsoft.

Chris (07:27):

Yeah. Yeah. There’s patent infringement related to data compression, incompatible Java implementation, and anti-competitive practices, that sounds like data trust, patent infringement regarding digital music technology, patent infringement regarding browser plugins, patent infringement involving software activation, patent infringement related to VPNs. This is only anti-competitive practice, I mean, regarding web browsers.

Abbey (08:04):

They’re all over the map with those. (Chris: Yeah.) They’re everywhere with intellectual property. There are two things here for me. One, if there was no precedent for this before, why not take the risk and see what happens? And two, how are you growing and innovating if you’re not doing something that someone else feels threatened by?

Chris (08:35):

If you’re not pushing boundaries…yeah. It’s either, I don’t think it’s necessarily the like, “ask forgiveness later” thing, but I think much more so the like, you’ve gotta take the shot and, (Abbey: Yeah.) you know, see if it works. And this Internet Explorer defined, it maybe didn’t define an era of the Internet, but it was strongly correlated to everyone’s movement away from dial up into broadband and like, Internet Explorer like, you were like, AOL, Netscape, like, Internet Explorer. Like, that was the thing. So obviously it worked out, right?

Abbey (09:24):

It did. You know, I mean, I think part of that though stems from their choice to bundle it, (Chris: Yeah.) or they were like, “we’re gonna make sure that every person who has a Windows computer knows about Internet Explorer and being the company that gives people access automatically,” totally changed the game. Because this was still in the era like, I know we’ve brought this up a million times, but the AOL CDs. (Chris: Yeah.) To not have to worry about how much bandwidth you’re using. Did you use your 30 hours or your 15 hours that the CD allowed? Like, kind of opening up that access so that people had unlimited access to the Internet.

Chris (10:09):

I would like to set the record straight on a previous episode where I opined that there were probably hundreds of thousands or millions of AOL CDs made. I naturally had to go back and look up how many were made, and the official number, well, maybe not official, but according to Vox, the number is over a billion CDs.

Abbey (10:38):

A billion.

Chris (10:39):

Yeah. So I was very wrong. Very, very wrong. But that kind of goes back to this decision to bundle Internet Explorer. Yes, it like, partially defined in era as a result, but it also helped to unseat the king, right? To unseat AOL. And I think, not just with like, around the same time as like, people transitioning from like AIM to MySpace and like, kind of broadening the world, right? Somehow, I mean, I know exactly how. I’ve worked with a bunch of chefs in my life, and I know a decent amount of chefs that still have an AOL email address, but that’s different.

Abbey (11:39):

The guy I worked for when I met my husband, it was a sign shop, and his work email that he had people sending things to, as a business, into the two thousands, and this is, I mean, we’ve been together probably 10 years, still an AOL account. And not even like, it’s not even something clever. It’s not the name of the business. (Chris: <Laugh>.) It’d be like, an email address that was like, [email protected]. (Chris: Nice.) Yeah.

Chris (12:20):

Do you think that email addresses will like, come back around like, a ‘90s Bronco did, you know? Like, cars will like, go out of favor for a while and then like, now like, an early ‘90s Bronco is pretty sick, but for a while it was like, I don’t know about that. I mean, OJ didn’t help but like, design-wise, like, it fell out of fashion, but now that they’ve come back. Do you think those old email addresses will do the same?

Abbey (12:56):

I don’t think I’m ever bringing back [email protected] <laugh>. (Chris: <Laugh>. Nice. Yeah.) Yeah. Yeah. Big Stanley Kubrick fan in high school. (Chris: <Laugh>.) But it is interesting to think like, if that hadn’t, you know, do those things come back in favor? Do they have to evolve to be something different? Like, even Internet Explorer after a while, they had to turn it into Edge, because the names and associations that happened with Internet Explorer became so negative. It was like, they innovated at the very beginning and then just kind of plateaued. (Chris: Yeah) So none of the browsers we have these days would be possible without Internet Explorer, which feels ironic, considering no one ever wanted to use it.

Chris (14:03):

Do you think that that innovation and growth, followed by being stagnant as a result of the growth of the company, the size of the company having to like, becoming this kind of slow moving, not dinosaur, but from nimble…

Abbey (14:26):

The more hoops there are to jump through, especially when you, you know like, maybe they got a little like, gun shy on building big products, given how many lawsuits they had been in for doing things that became, the lawsuits that they were involved in became things that were standard in tech. (Chris: Yeah.) You know like, with that lawsuit that they were in with Apple, it was, you know, the use of things like a pointer for the mouse. (Chris: Yeah.) They had to be in a lawsuit for that to become a standard. They got into a lawsuit with Spyglass over this for bundling an internet provider, which is now completely standard. Every company makes their own internet service.

Chris (15:18):

It is kinda wild to me that it was over bundling a web browser when you could just download another one. (Abbey: Yeah.) I mean…

Abbey (15:36):

<Inaudible> get it downloaded at that point. I mean…

Chris (15:37):

Yeah, I guess that was, that’s the question. And I’m sure there’s an answer; I just don’t know. Like, this IP antitrust conversation gets more, so the IP conversation gets really interesting with the like, evolution of AI, right? And that’s a whole other topic, and you don’t necessarily see Microsoft like, jumping into the deep end there, either.

Abbey (16:04):

That’ll be kind of like, the next frontier of IP blah. You’re already seeing people like Sarah Silverman suing Chat GPT, because some of her comedy has been used to kind of create those automated responses. Where do you draw the line of like, if a program is ingesting all of this information and then regurgitating it, where does that become fair use versus plagiarism?

Chris (16:34):

Yeah, and where’s the line between a search engine, and AI, (Abbey: Yeah.) or a large language model? So this also brought up the question of bloatware, and I’m interested to hear what your least favorite bloatware is. There’s a clear winner for me,

Abbey (16:59):

I mean, my go-to is, I know this isn’t technically bloatware, but Apple putting U2 on every single (Chris: <Laugh>.) Apple Music account.

Chris (17:10):

<Laugh>. Yeah. That was a good one.

Abbey (17:13):

That was a trash move. It’s still like, I don’t have an iPhone, but every time it comes up on my husband’s phone, like, dude, why haven’t you erased this yet?

Chris (17:24):

<Laugh>, I still, every now and then, look at, you know like, I don’t use Apple Music anymore. Like, I just use Spotify or whatever, but every now and then, I’ll be like, cleaning out my phone or computer. Like, why do I have this U2 album? It takes me a second to remember.

Abbey (17:45):

You didn’t want it. Apple gave it to you.

Chris (17:48):

I mean, so interestingly, mine is Apple, as well, but it’s like, Pages, Numbers, keynote. I hate it. They’re garbage programs nobody uses, that aren’t the industry standard, that didn’t even use the industry standard file type for the longest time. (Abbey: Right.) Well, yes, I appreciate from, like, I feel like it was probably a marketing move, right? That they’re like, “Oh, we’re gonna provide added value with like, this is a…” at the time was like, a luxury like, computer, “and the added value that we’re gonna give you is this word processing.”

Abbey (18:25):

But I think that was also because Apple wouldn’t support Microsoft Suite.

Chris (18:30):

Ah, oh yeah. Yeah, alright. That’s right.

Abbey (18:36):

…and just something that they were like, “Yes, you can exist entirely in our ecosystem,” but to your point, doesn’t take into account, at all, that it doesn’t interact with other ecosystems. I used to get things sent to me from like, some of our athletes at my last job where they’d like, type something out on their phone. Like, that was what they used to like, write a blog post or bio information or something and send it to me in Pages. (Chris: <Laugh>.) Which, of course, I never updated it on the computer, ’cause I would never use it. So then in order to open it, I have to do that, then you have to transfer it out to a different file type to be able to copy and paste it, and yeah, I think that’s a solid contender for least favorite bloatware. (Chris: Yeah.) Yeah.

Chris (19:23):

What was the transition after Internet Explorer? Was it straight to Chrome? Oh, Firefox. It was the Firefox era.

Abbey (19:33):

Yeah. Firefox was big. I think Chrome was like, the latest (Chris: Yeah.) of the game.

Chris (19:41):

And that’s some like, serious staying power.

Abbey (19:43):

I think Internet Explorer was, if I remember right, they lasted until like, I think 2015. Yeah, in April of 2015, they announced they’d stopped doing backwards compatibility and then started moving everything over to Edge. (Chris: So around…) I was working as a developer when Edge came out, and they made a lot of changes that I think the software community was really excited for. They made it really easy to like, much easier to like, interact with and design for (Chris: Yeah.) like Internet Explorer had done. But now it’s, I think if you, I mean, I’d have to look at stats. I’m sure we could look up how, what browsers people use to access our site, but I think almost all of it is Chrome.

Chris (20:40):

I tried Arc browser, which like, once again, is an example of somebody like, trying to innovate. It’s a really interesting browser that you can put together like a main page like, your like, dashboard and have like, look-ins to other websites. So if there’s like, something that updates regularly that you wanna see, you can have a look-in to that, next to like, a picture of your family, next to like, a look-in of like, you know, the specials at your like, favorite neighborhood restaurant.

Abbey (21:20):

That’s very cool.

Chris (21:21):

Yeah. Like, that was really cool. The setup of it was really interesting and pretty intuitive, but I thought it used a lot of screen real estate, for a laptop anyways. But despite all of their innovation, it just became apparent to me that the style of browser, like Google Chrome, has just become the convention and breaking away from that style. And I think like, ultimately, like, Explorer was, really like, laid the groundwork for that, and Chrome innovated a bit in like, usability, but trying to mess with convention too much, just like, just rocking the boat too much.

Abbey (22:15):

I mean, why don’t we have more styles of phones? You know like, (Chris: Yeah.) there are basically like, three types of interfaces you use, and it’s Apple, it’s Microsoft-based, or Linux–based, or Chrome-based. And like, if you try to do something outside of that, people don’t know how to interact with it. (Chris: Yeah.) Even switching between Android and Apple, people don’t know how to do it. So I wonder how you like, how do you innovate on that then when you’re like, like you’re saying like, this browser is really cool, innovative, doesn’t really do what you want it to, because you’re used to it doing something else.

Chris (22:57):

With stuff like that, and this was like, this kind of came from like, common thought in like, diet, and if you’re trying to like, say you’re trying to like, go vegetarian, right? The way to go vegetarian from being a carnivore is to start adding a bunch of vegetarian dishes. Find the things that you like, and add those to your regular rotation, (Abbey: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and then start cutting the meat out. Don’t do it the other way. I think like, at least with my experience using this other browser, it felt like too big of a departure to, it was going to affect my productivity. It was going to be something that I had to like, learn over a period of time. You know, I think making wholesale changes like that are best done in an additive and then reductive fashion, as opposed to just…

Abbey (24:02):

That’s really interesting to think about, in terms of like, how do you innovate tech in that way? Like, how do you, do you think that browser would’ve been more effective if they started something that was like, more familiar? So it was like, the first evolution of it is like, you open your homepage, and there’s a search box, and then there are four of those things that you want looks into, and then the next evolution of it is like, you can have more things on your homepage if you want. You don’t have to, (Chris: Yeah.) but we will make you on the next update.

Chris (24:36):

Yeah. (Abbey: Yeah.) Which, I mean, then again is, you know, how do you do that as you’re growing into adoption, right? (Abbey: Yeah.) But you could, you’d have to, there’d be like, this time-based weird thing, and then nobody would like that either, but (Abbey: Yeah <laugh>.) yeah. So I was like, talking about phones, I walked out of our apartment in Brooklyn one day, and there was a coffee shop downstairs, and there was a guy sitting with what looked like, imagine a like, Nokia, but like, slimmer and like, luxury, is the only way I could describe it. (Abbey: Okay.) And I like, had this thought, this was a few years ago, and I had this thought of like, immediately, I knew what it was without ever seeing one before. I was like, I guarantee you, that’s a like, luxury model, dumb phone that this dude like, this kind of like, hipster has. And sure enough, it was like, I looked it up, and it was like, $1,000 phone that only allowed you to like, text and make phone calls. It was wild. It looked sweet, and I, you know, I think it would be really interesting if there was a way to like, use that for like, use that for the weekend, and like, use your other phone for like, the week or whatever. (Abbey: Yeah.) But it was <laugh> a bit of a like, mind blowing little moment.

Abbey (26:07):

Maybe it’s, you know, it’s a, maybe an example of like, where we’ve kind of like, over-teched ourselves.

Chris (26:14):

It’s kind of ridiculous that it’s so expensive, but the money that you’re investing into that isn’t the money that you’re investing into the phone. It’s the money that you’re investing into your like, mental health, right, and like, (Abbey: Yeah.) making that investment makes you use it, makes you have a nice thing that feels good and like, feels good in your hand, whatever, but you’re really paying for your mental health. You’re not paying for the phone itself.

Abbey (26:41):

I just feel like if I’m paying $1,000 for a phone, I want it to do a whole bunch of stuff for me <laugh>.

Chris (26:46):

Yeah, and then just leave your phone at home when you don’t want it <laugh>?

Abbey (26:51):

Yeah. I dunno. I’m excited to see like, kinda what…I feel like, with AI and with people, there’s like, there’s a growing population, people who want those things that are like, dumber where you don’t wanna be so connected all the time, and then on the other side of things, we have AI that’s like, trying to boost progress so that you can intake all of this information at all times and kind of push it back out. Like, how do we find that? Where’s the balance moving forward?

Chris (27:18):

I mean, I think, to me, at least right now, I can speak to, I think the balance is that using…like, ChatGPT for instance, it’s all in, it’s like Vegas. Like, it can be like, whatever you want it to be, right? Like, if you wanna go to Vegas and like, go nightclubing, you can, or if you wanna go gambling, you can, or you wanna go to great restaurants, you can, or you wanna go to the lake, you can do that. With like, LLMs, it can be, if you want it to be an overwhelming amount of information, it can be overwhelming. You can make it that way. But I’ve found myself using it a lot more in situations where I don’t want the like, Google 10 blue links. Like, I want to know a like, pretty good answer, and I want one of them, and if I want more information, like, I can go find it. But like, using that to simplify and eliminate noise, I think has been a really great use case for me.

Abbey (28:31):

Using it correctly to simplify. That’s a good, maybe that’s the next Internet Explorer. It’s just kind of like, a dumb search bot, a dumb internet.

Chris (28:49):

I mean, Google is experimenting with it. They have, in their like, beta launch, a feature that, when you search for something, instead of just getting 10 blue links, you get a big box that pops up in the beginning that tries to answer your question. (Abbey: Yeah.) And it may provide some examples of like, I don’t know, like, things to do in like, Lake Powell. Like, here’s like, one boat rental place that’s really great. It’s the, like, down below, you still have like, all the links that (Abbey: Yeah.) you can get to. And I think it like, I haven’t found myself really like, using it that much, mainly because it’s only on my personal account, and I don’t use that often. I’m mostly on my work one, but (Abbey: Yeah.) I think that like, that seems like a logical next progression. And once again, it’s like, kind of getting back to, instead of like, a complete overhaul and rebrand a new product, it’s “Here’s one more feature we’re gonna give you, and like, see what you think, and then iterate on it.”

Abbey (30:03):

That slow adoption.

Chris (30:04):

Yeah. Yeah, I think that that feels right.

Abbey (30:07):

Yeah. Well now we just need to build our own browser. That’s our million dollar idea.

Chris (30:12):

I like, I legitimately don’t know how like, the New York Browser Company is, they made the Arc browser, but I started using it. Nothing to do with New York, but I, yeah, I see the coincidence there. It seems like a hard road to redefine the browser, to reinvent the browser, and to go to war with Chrome. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) But you know, I legitimately wonder like, how they continue to make money, and hopefully they do, because obviously like, I think we’re better off having the, I mean…

Abbey (30:58):

More options.

Chris (30:59):

There’s a reason antitrust exists, right?

Abbey (31:01):

Yeah. Well, on that note, thanks for joining me.

Chris (31:07):

We did it.

Abbey (31:08):

Go violate some antitrust laws. No <laugh>.

Chris (31:11):

Yeah <Laugh>.

Faith, via previous recording (31:11):

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