This week marked a milestone for the Internet. As of June 16th, Microsoft’s old and derelict browser, Internet Explorer, is officially no longer supported.
For most people, such news probably doesn’t even register as a notable event. Only about 5% of the world’s Internet users still use IE. But the news struck fear in the heart of many Japanese businesses that just couldn’t bring themselves to let go of a classic.
The old and the new in Japan
Many in the West tend to idolize Japan as a haven of high tech. That’s not wrong, per se. But as I’ve discussed before, there’s definitely a strong “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality that dominates Japan.
This is especially true in business and industry. On the one hand, Japan has spurred many innovations in manufacturing and the sciences. On the other hand, fax machines and hanko seals are still common. The country has also been slow to adopt other tech that’s gone mainstream elsewhere, such as cashless payments (though that’s slowly changing). Many people in Japan continue to express frustration over the country’s slow embrace of IT in general.
How a mighty browser has fallen
Internet Explorer was first released in 1994. It took about 5 years but the device’s inclusion in Windows let it to become the dominant Web browser on the market.
Well…for a while, at least. IE grabbed a lion’s share of the market around 1999 and held onto it for a number of years. Around 2004, Firefox and other browsers started to fill the hole in the browser market left by the lingering ghost of Netscape Navigator. Around 2008, Firefox and a little upstart called Google Chrome assumed a lion’s share of eyeballs. By 2014, less than 10% of Internet users were using IE as their window to the Web.
IE: The browser problem child for web developers"No engineer would want to develop a site that only works in IE. They probably got their orders from the higher-ups and went about their work in tears." Click To Tweet
All of this tug of war between browsers is, of course, good for users. As companies have competed for market share, they’ve improved both the functionality and performance of their offerings.
In terms of bugs and conformance to public standards, IE is the poster child of bad behavior. For years, the browser’s dev team explicitly expressed disdain for following standards. Add to that a slew of bugs and performance problems and you have a nightmare scenario for Web developers.
(I should know: I supported IE working for Microsoft’s Developer Support division in 1999. Let’s just say I dealt with my fair share of…disgruntled customers.)
However, given its market dominance for years, Web site devs had no choice but to support IE. Many companies and governments even went so far as to recommend IE as the ideal browser for viewing their site. Targeting a specific browser helped to lighten the burden on Web site development teams.
Japan’s “Dependence” on IE
IE’s dominance in the browser market during the heyday of Web 2.0 means that a lot of sites were coded against it. This was especially true in Japan. Many government Web sites in particular biased towards IE to keep development costs low.
The problem is that many of these sites are still targeting IE. Consumers viewing them in different browsers might experience degraded functionality. Even worse, IE is far less secure than modern Web browsers such as Google Chrome or Microsoft’s own Edge. (Even Microsoft admits this.) Encouraging users to keep using IE leaves them vulnerable to hacking.
With the news of IE’s imminent demise, the phrase “IE縛り” (“shackled to IE”) began trending on Japan Twitter. A site is “IE縛り” if it won’t work outside of IE at all.
Some social media users were astounded to discover that even recently developed Web sites in Japan were built to target IE. In particular, Internet users were freaked out to discover that a part of Japan’s My Number (national ID number) system was built around the antiquated browser. Japan’s government supports a cashback points system to encourage citizens to acquire a national ID number. For some reason, the site for administrating one’s points only works on the geriatric browser.
Many users expressed sympathy for the poor engineers assigned to such a grueling task:
“I pity the poor engineers who built the My Number Point system. No engineer would want to develop a Web app that only works in IE. They probably got their orders from the higher-ups and went about their work in tears.”
Only 16% of sites revised by May
The My Number Point site isn’t the only site in Japan affected by IE’s demise. There are likely hundreds – if not thousands – of sites suffering the same affliction.
Japanese businesses and governments have had years to prepare for the end of IE support. Despite this, as of May 2022, many companies had still failed to upgrade their Web sites to support modern coding standards. According to survey company VALTES, a mere 14% of companies they polled reported they were done converting their sites to use other browsers. 42% said it was a work in progress. And a terrifying 15% confessed that they hadn’t even started.
A workaround (for now) and a bunch of memes
The good news is that there’s a workaround for sites that are still “shackled by IE”. Microsoft recommends that users move to Microsoft Edge, which supports an “IE Mode”. However, the company also cautions that users only activate IE Mode for sites that they trust. The IE execution engine is ancient and hasn’t received significant updates in years. As such, use of IE mode on untrusted sites could leave users open to security vulnerabilities.
Meanwhile, the Japanese citizens who weren’t freaking out about security took to Twitter to send off their old friend. Users flooded the service with farewell missives and memes. And, of course, at least one user had to concoct an IE/Evangelion cross-over:
Hopefully, by the end of this year, Japanese companies and government agencies can finish freeing themselves from the shackles of IE. In the meantime, if you live in Japan and have to use a shackled Web site, remember that Edge is your friend.
What to read next
 Browser market share. Net Marketshare
 Why your Website looks so bad on Internet Explorer. Smartbear
 政府サイトの「IE縛り」は何が問題なのか？ ネットでは「エンジニアがかわいそう」「発注側の問題では」などの声. Netlab
 Modern security protection for vulnerable legacy apps. Microsoft
 依存度高い日本は大丈夫か IEは6月16日サポート終了だが移行措置「完了」16％. ITMedia
 日本企業のIT化はなぜ進まないのか――日本特有のSI構造とエンタープライズITの在り方から探ってみると. Wingarc