By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal on Jan. 22, 2016
The workhorses of the web browser class breathed their last breath last Tuesday. That's when Microsoft ended support for Internet Explorer versions 8, 9, and 10.
That could be a big problem or a much smaller one, depending on whose statistics you believe. Different web trend watchers have a divergent view of the prominence of IE. W3Schools, a training, testing and development site for web programmers, gathers information from log files globally and reports IE (that's all versions, including Edge) has a 6.8 percent user base. StatCounter says 12.5 percent, while Net Market Share tops the charts with 55.1 percent.
But no matter whose stats you look at, one thing seems clear: Microsoft's browser have been on a downhill slide for a while now.
That stands in stark contrast to Microsoft's overwhelming global prominence in the operating system. According to Net Market Share, Windows OS versions from XP through 10 are running 90.6 percent of the world's personal computers (this does not include mobile devices). Macs may seem to be everywhere but globally represent just under 4 percent of operating systems. For the Mac aficionado, don't worry, the rate is much higher in the US - up to 13 percent.
Whichever browser stat you want to go with, it certainly appears that a lot of people buy Windows-run computers, but then choose a different browser.
Which one? Google Chrome leads as the top browser for desktops, smartphones and tablets. You will get different opinions about security and privacy depending on which expert you ask. But Chrome generally gets high marks on security, but not so great on privacy. After all, Google's stock-in-trade is knowing everything about what you are doing, where you are going, how you'll get there, and what you'll buy there. So your "privacy" is kind of an open issue.
Microsoft's more recent browser are given very high marks for certain aspects of security, especially in detecting malware on websites. But, if you set up IE or Edge in the most secure configuration, you'll be challenged constantly. That can delay getting to where you're trying to go while you figure out the right answer. Eventually, you get fed up and turn all that stuff off. Risky behavior. And it may be part of the reason why Windows users move away from the installed browser.
The demise of IE 8, 9, and 10 means you will have to have a computer running a minimum of Windows 8.1 or Windows RT 8.1 , and a 1 gigahertz (GHz) processor to run Edge or IE 11. That may send you or your IT team running to check your desktop(s). Or, you could potentially care less. After all, what does "end of life" mean for a browser — or an operating system.
The old browsers will not stop working - at least not on the outside. But they will stop blocking dangerous threats, they will stop detecting new malware, and they will essentially become an open door for hackers. Microsoft will stop developing patches, fixes and updates. It is not possible to overstate the risk you run to your security, your privacy, your databases and, potentially, your customers' sensitive information, by running an unsupported version.
Ending support for these browsers is not a new development. Microsoft announced it more than a year ago. But perhaps it is not surprising that there has been no big rush to change browsers. As of November, according to StatCounter, 30 percent of all the IE browsers were in these three, soon-to-be obsolete versions.
For that matter, however, 10 percent of all Windows users in the world are still running XP, which was euthanized in April 2014. In the US alone, one year after support was ended, XP's share was 6.5 percent.
While security may not be very high on users' minds, it's top of mind for developers, designers and companies who are mindful of the very real costs of exposure.
A discussion that might gain traction revolves around how we should access the internet in the future. Will a traditional browser be replaced by a greater prevalence of web apps? With mobile devices the tool of choice for the millennial market, the future likely doesn't favor the desktop/laptop as the platform we're developing for. In fact, among the under-30s, laptop ownership has dropped 12 percent in just the past three years, according to the Pew Research Center.
Still the future many of us need to be thinking about right now is how safe my business or my home is from the army of hackers who count on our complacency. If you are running XP on your desktop, there is a good chance you have already been exploited. If you are running IE 8,9, or 10, don't just hang on. While the new Microsoft browsers have higher system requirements, Chrome and Firefox will run on most current systems. If your computer can't handle any currently supported browser, it is time for a new computer.