SEOUL — In South Korea, one of many world’s most technologically superior international locations, there are few limits to what might be accomplished conveniently on-line — besides if you happen to’re utilizing the flawed net browser.
On Google Chrome, you’ll be able to’t make enterprise funds on-line as a company buyer of one of many nation’s largest foreign-owned banks. In case you’re utilizing Apple’s Safari, you’re unable to use for artist funding by the Nationwide Tradition and Arts web site. And if you happen to’re a proprietor of a kid care facility, registering your group with the Well being and Welfare Ministry’s web site isn’t potential on Mozilla’s Firefox.
In all these circumstances, Microsoft’s Web Explorer, or an identical various, is the required browser.
When Microsoft shut down Web Explorer, or IE, on June 15, the corporate mentioned it might begin redirecting customers to its newer Edge browser within the coming months. The announcement impressed jokes and memes commemorating the web of yesteryear. However in South Korea, IE isn’t some on-line artifact. The defunct browser remains to be wanted for a small variety of vital banking and government-related duties that many individuals can’t dwell with out.
South Korea’s fealty to Web Explorer, 27 years after its introduction and now into its retirement, presents a heavy dose of irony: A rustic recognized for blazing broadband and modern gadgets is tethered to a buggy and insecure piece of software program deserted by a lot of the world way back.
Most South Korean web sites work on each browser, together with Google Chrome, which takes up about 54 % of the nation’s web use. Web Explorer is lower than 1 %, in accordance with Statcounter. But after the announcement from Microsoft, there was a last-minute scramble amongst some important websites to organize for all times after IE.
The South Korean arm of the British financial institution Normal Chartered warned company prospects in Could that they would wish to begin utilizing the Edge browser in “IE mode” for entry to its “Straight2Bank” web banking platform. Varied Korean authorities web sites instructed customers that some providers have been prone to face disruptions if they didn’t change to Edge.
In Could, Naver, certainly one of Korea’s greatest web firms, highlighted a function of its Whale browser that permits entry to websites that required Web Explorer. Kim Hyo, who heads Naver’s Whale group, mentioned the corporate had initially added the choice in 2016. He thought it might not be wanted when Microsoft shut down IE.
However as the ultimate days approached, Mr. Kim realized that some Korean web sites wouldn’t make the change in time, so he saved the function and adjusted its identify to “Web Explorer mode.” Modernizing web sites that had catered to IE for many years was “fairly a big job,” he mentioned, and a few websites “simply missed the deadline.”
South Korea’s reliance on Web Explorer dates again to the Nineteen Nineties, when the nation grew to become a forerunner in utilizing the web for banking and purchasing. With a view to defend on-line transactions, the federal government handed a legislation in 1999 requiring encrypted digital certificates for any matter that had beforehand referred to as for a signature.
Verifying an individual’s identification required further software program that linked to the browser, generally known as a plug-in. The South Korean authorities licensed 5 firms to situation such digital certificates utilizing a Microsoft plug-in referred to as ActiveX. However the plug-in labored solely on Web Explorer.
On the time, utilizing a Microsoft plug-in appeared like an apparent selection. Microsoft Home windows software program dominated the private pc market within the Nineteen Nineties, and Web Explorer had leveraged that place to grow to be the dominant browser. As a result of key Korean web sites required IE, different web sites started catering to Microsoft’s browser, reinforcing its significance. By one estimate, Web Explorer had 99 % market share in South Korea between 2004 and 2009.
“We have been actually the one recreation on the town,” mentioned James Kim, who led Microsoft in South Korea from 2009 to 2015. Mr. Kim, who now heads the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, mentioned that Microsoft hadn’t tried to thwart the competitors, however that plenty of issues “didn’t work” with out IE.
Kim Keechang, a legislation professor at Korea College in Seoul, mentioned Web Explorer’s stranglehold on South Korea was so full within the early 2000s that the majority South Koreans “couldn’t identify one other browser.”
When Professor Kim returned to South Korea in 2002 after educating overseas, he found that he couldn’t do something on-line along with his pc working Linux, a free, open-source various to Home windows, and Firefox. Yearly, he went to an web cafe for entry to a pc with IE with a view to file his taxes on a authorities website.
In 2007, Professor Kim filed a lawsuit in opposition to the Korea Monetary Telecommunications & Clearings Institute, one of many 5 government-approved non-public firms assigned to situation digital certificates. He argued that the corporate, which issued about 80 % of South Korea’s certificates, had unjustly discriminated in opposition to him by not permitting different browsers.
Over three years, Professor Kim misplaced the case, misplaced the enchantment and misplaced on the nation’s Supreme Court docket. However his courtroom battle drew broader consideration to the pitfalls of South Korea’s system, particularly after a 2009 cyberattack exploited ActiveX to unfold malware on Korean computer systems.
With the arrival of smartphones, an business constructed on software program from Apple and Google, South Korea, like a lot of the world, began to cut back its reliance on Microsoft. In 2010, the nation issued pointers that authorities web sites must be suitable with three completely different net browsers. However altering the plumbing of South Korea’s web was not simple — particularly as banks and bank card firms stood by the present system.
As public opinion shifted, customers bristled on the inconvenience of needing to make use of ActiveX to purchase issues on-line. Critics argued that the know-how had failed to fulfill its function as a result of the plug-in software program made customers much less secure.
Microsoft launched Edge in 2015 as a substitute for Web Explorer, and the corporate mentioned it was not supporting ActiveX within the new browser. Chrome grew to become the nation’s prime browser three years earlier.
In 2020, South Korea amended the 1999 legislation to remove the necessity for digital certificates, a transfer that appeared to shut the e-book on ActiveX and Web Explorer. That very same 12 months, Microsoft began eradicating assist for IE in a few of its on-line providers. A 12 months later, the corporate introduced that it deliberate to retire Web Explorer altogether.
Whereas a lot of the world joked about Web Explorer’s demise, one South Korean engineer marked the event in a extra somber manner.
Jung Ki-young, a 39-year-old software program developer, erected a tombstone for IE on the rooftop of his older brother’s cafe in Gyeongju, a metropolis on South Korea’s southeastern coast round 170 miles from Seoul. He paid $330 for the monument, which was engraved with the browser’s recognizable “e” brand and an inscription: “He was a very good device to obtain different browsers.”
Mr. Jung mentioned he had his share of frustrations with Web Explorer, however he felt the browser that had launched so many South Koreans to the net deserved a correct goodbye.
“Utilizing Web Explorer was troublesome and irritating, however it additionally served a very good function,” Mr. Jung mentioned. “I don’t be ok with simply retiring it with a ‘we don’t want you anymore’ perspective.”