Microsoft's (MSFT) Internet Explorer may not be as old as the Web, but it's been around for decades. However, the company has announced that with Windows 10 it will virtually retire the brand and move to a new browser name (still to be decided) and identity. IE will still exist, but only for compatibility with existing corporate software.
Although the change is small in one sense, it shows how far Microsoft's power and influence have fallen over the years. And it raises questions again about how long Microsoft can continue as a mainstay in corporate computing.
Once the backbone of many corporate online application strategies, the IE has been eclipsed by competition that offer perceived better performance. Google's (GOOG) Chrome recently had a 43.2 percent share of users, while Firefox had 11.6 percent. Internet Explorer had 13.1 percent, according to the site StatCounter.
Code-named Project Spartan, Microsoft has billed the new browser as lighter and nimbler with the ability to work across all Windows-powered devices and allowing users to annotate websites.
But introducing a new browser has some significant implications for Microsoft's overall strategy. IE was a standard for many corporations, which built Web-based applications on the assumption employees would run them on that browser. Some companies held on to old versions of IE for years to avoid rewriting major corporate applications.
In trying to address competition, which it had to do, Microsoft has opened the door for companies to move completely away and use either other browsers or apps built for Google's Android or Apple's (AAPL) iPhones and iPads. Keeping IE compatibility in some versions of Windows may not be enough for business customers.
The fewer ties corporate IT departments have to Microsoft, the more easily they can eventually shift to other technologies, like cloud-based hosting and mobile apps. That road is dangerous for Microsoft because it still depends greatly on holding an important place in corporate computing.