Approaching its sixteenth birthday and version 10 and with Firefox nipping smartly at its heels, the once mighty Internet Explorer now maintains a tenuous grasp as the leader in the browser usage share wars. While some usage reports still show it in the lead, others see it as soundly defeated (including the W3C browser statistics report and the Statcounter browser usage report for visitors to Iron Spider).
With its usage share dropping off a cliff from a massive peak of 96% in 2002, one could say Internet Explorer has recently responded almost panic-stricken with its latest iteration, Internet Explorer 9, released on March 14, 2011. This version actually 'out-Chromes' Google Chrome by reducing the user interface to a bare minimum placing only what is immediately essential to operate the browser in a single toolbar running along the top.
Stripped away are all the amenities that many have become accustomed to including the status bar at the bottom and the traditional File menu bar at the top (the latter of which, unlike Internet Explorer 8, cannot be fixed in the final release version via a registry hack). But then this may not even affect you if you're still running Windows XP since you need Windows Vista or Windows 7 to even install Internet Explorer 9.
However, even as the browser wars heat up again, Internet Explorer probably has no cause for concern of going the way of the dodo á la Netscape since as long as there are Windows users (of which there are many) there will always be Internet Explorer users.
Internet Explorer first came on the scene back in 1995 as part of an add-on created by Microsoft which made it easy to get on the internet. Running up against Netscape —which was the most popular browser at the time— it fared poorly largely because Netscape was already established and simply had more bells and whistles.
Microsoft fought back by releasing Internet Explorer 2 as a free download and bundling it with Windows 95 SP1 but it wasn't until Internet Explorer 3 —which caught up feature-wise with Netscape— that they really started to make an impact on browser usage shares.
Internet Explorer 4 was released fully integrated with the Windows operating system, most notably Windows 98 but also in Windows OEM SR2/SP2 releases. Along with an already growing movement of users away from Netscape, many ceased to give any thought as to which web browser they would use since Windows essentially came to them with the 'internet already installed'. Clicking on that big blue 'e' on your Windows desktop turned on the internet and the line between web browser and internet began to blur.
In a few short years, Internet Explorer trounced Netscape in the infamous and ongoing browser wars. This eventually led to an antitrust lawsuit accusing Microsoft of not playing fair by providing Internet Explorer free with Windows; a lawsuit which was eventually successful although it didn't stop the world from continuing to use Internet Explorer.
Since the advent of Firefox and other alternate web browsers, Internet Explorer has seen its usage share decline dramatically largely because of the extensibility of alternate web browsers. Simply put, other web browsers can be dressed up with all kinds of user interface themes and features while Internet Explorer typically cannot.
One notable exception is the Web Developer toolbar which began as a optional add-on for Internet Explorer 7 and became fully integrated with IE8 and IE9. If you're using Internet Explorer 8 or 9 and you don't see the Web Developer toolbar, you can turn it on by clicking on View » Toolbars » Developer Toolbar. This will display a toolbar running across the top providing buttons that will allow you to do all sorts of things to analyze your web pages. This includes disabling specific web page elements (disable images), visually display all CSS class and id information, outlining select HTML elements (great for visualizing your layout), resizing the browser to simulate popular screen resolutions and even providing a virtual ruler you can use to measure the length in pixels of anything on your web page. (This latter is immensely useful for creating web designs.)
Another webmaster tool I highly recommend installing into Internet Explorer is the Google toolbar, of which in my humble opinion, the most important feature is the PageRank meter. With this feature turned on, you can readily see what kind of PageRank score Google has given any web page you visit, including your own. And in case you're not aware, PageRank is a special score between 1-10 that Google uses to measure how well linked your web pages are and thus how important they are in the eyes of others. The more other web pages link to a specific page, the more people must feel that page is important and hence a higher PageRank score.
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