IE 4. Oh gods, no...
For those of you who weren’t around in 1997, this was the year that Microsoft went mental. IE 4.0 was batshit crazy. It took over all your software, wormed into the file browser, it infested your very PC desktop, and it was Proprietary City. I specifically recall the unforgettable Peter Jackson returning to the office after a Microsoft technical preview of the new browser, telling us that the company had gone mad. His published review of IE 4.0 called it “insane”.
Oh, it was beyond insane. It was absolutely batshit-nuts-with-sparklers-and-celery-in-its-ears.
Having turned up late to the party, Microsoft then binged on the heady broth that the internet offered, in order to try and catch up. The result was a drunken mess that could only be matched by giving a house full of medical students a ten thousand pound credit line at Oddbins and instructions to spend it all over the weekend after their finals...
This was the version of IE that gave us Channels, which were like RSS but designed for media luvvies. I always wondered how much money Disney, CNN and Reed Elsevier must have wasted on creating infrastructure and content for that godawful idea.
The problem with Channels wasn't just the odd interface and the complete lack of anyone explaining what they were and why you'd want them. It was that they tried to download the content - all of it - so it could be displayed offline. This was a noble goal in the days of dial-up, as phone connections were initially pay-per-minute. But because it went via traditional media companies, they went a bit nuts and filled their channels with big images, so the end result of the developer's good intentions was that every time you dialled up, the first five to ten minutes of your connection time was dog slow as channels updated. The few people that did ever try them quickly abandoned them because of this.
Microsoft finally killed Channels when they released IE7. Yes, you heard that right - they survived about 9 years of disinterest and neglect.
But if Channels were a bad idea, nothing matches Active Desktop.
"Hey guys, I've had a great idea! You know that desktop that users hide by maximising their applications all day every day, so they only ever see it just after starting up and just before shutting down? Let's make that DISPLAY LIVE CONTENT!"
The idea of Active Desktop was just dumb. But the implementation was terrible. The IE rendering engine was a bit RAM hungry, and was famously buggy - so it basically made your machine slower and less stable, in order to allow you to see content that you won't see anyway because you're doing some actual work.
It was the perfect blend of weapons-grade-stupidity and pointlessness.
And, of course, because there had to be consistency between desktop and server, if someone had installed IE 4 on your servers (and if they did, no jury would convict you - so go right ahead) it sucked resources there whenever you logged on to them. And when would you probably log on? When there's a problem to be looked at. When you can't really afford to lose 8-12Mb of RAM to an instance of IE that you didn't want, and would never want.
And these are just the most visible failures of IE4. Inconsistent rendering across its many service packs, instability, that truly awful "one click instead of double click" option that tried to make Windows Explorer more like a browser but actually just made it useless... Imagine if a release that bad came out now. The net rage would eclipse all previous episodes!
I'd like to close by apologising to anyone who read this far for the memories I've brought back. If you were affected by the issues raised in this post, then please get yourself to a pub. That'll make it all better. Hopefully.