Internet Explorer 5 for Mac: twentieth anniversary

Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition logo textToday (Jan 5th, 2020) marks the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition (MacIE 5). This was both the most important release of Internet Explorer for the Mac and the last. It was also the first large third-party Mac application to ship for Mac OS X, and the first mainstream web browser to embrace standards compliant web content.

This anniversary is also significant for me as MacIE 5 was first product I worked on when I started working at Microsoft in summer of 1999. I was 22 years old and I was thrown into the deep end of the browser wars, the Microsoft anti-trust trial, and the love/hate relationship between Microsoft and Apple. I don’t want to delve into the details of what made MacIE 5 special because my friend Tantek Çelik has already documented that on his blog. Rather I want to focus on the inside story of how and why it was developed, and some of the people and personalities that shaped it’s success and eventual demise.

I’ve just posted a Twitter thread that goes into some details bout the events leading up to and just after the unveiling of MacIE 5 by Steve Jobs:

I also want to share a detailed history of MacIE 5’s bold UI design, dubbed “New Look” internally. This history has been compiled by Maf Vosburgh, the developer who conceived and executed the implementation of this major UI redesign:

New Look : How I set the look of Mac IE 5, possibly kickstarted Aqua (sorry), and invented translucent blurred windows, in the 1990s.

Maf Vosburgh, January 2020, California

In the summer of 1998 I moved from London to San Jose, California to write code for Mac IE 5 at Microsoft. I was supposed to go work for Apple in Cupertino, but the Apple recruiter screwed up my offer paperwork, and Microsoft snapped me up.

I should explain that my background was at a BBC spinoff called “MMC”, coding Mac multimedia software for CD-ROMs like “3D Atlas” and Douglas Adams’ “Last Chance to See”. I was used to working with graphic designers. I’d do a rough prototype, they would do a beautiful image of how it really ought to look, and after a bit of back and forth we’d have a lovely product. MMC started off using tools like HyperCard supplemented by our custom plug-ins, but by the mid-90s we had switched to native code and never looked back.

Coming from the artist-influenced multimedia world, the visual style Microsoft had in progress for Mac IE 5 looked ancient to me. Everything was the MacOS platinum style, shades of gray like cement, with a horde of tiny 16 by 16 pixel toolbar icons (in 4-bit color with a 1 bit mask) most of which had obviously been designed by engineers in a pixel editor like ResEdit.

Meanwhile, Mac hardware of the 1998-1999 era was incredibly vivid, with first the Bondi blue iMac and then a whole palette of iMacs in translucent candy colors with white pinstriped elements. I had posters of them on my office wall. Eventually the whole Mac range had this same vivid design style, and the gray drab interface of MacOS 8, which we matched, seemed left behind. Apple’s demos at the time of their future OS would (which came to be Mac OS X) also used this same gray look. We were building a state-of-the-art new HTML engine for IE 5 (Tasman) and I wanted the chrome to be as modern.

I had the idea of making our browser chrome match the actual hardware you were on. If your Mac’s bezel was Bondi blue, we’d make our UI Bondi blue. That way our “frame” around the web page would match the bezel and so would be seen as part of the background and be distinct from the content. By being more vivid we would paradoxically blend into the background, and look more at home.

I put my idea to the rest of the Mac IE team, and they loved it. We had no graphic artists in our little office in San Jose and I suggested we hire a company called Nykris back in London. Nykris was a digital design company founded by two artists I’d previously worked with at MMC, Nikki Barton and Chris Prior (their first names combined to make the company name) and they had other great people on staff who I trusted, like Graham Bartram.

So somehow the Mac IE5 exec, Dick Craddock, let me, a newly hired engineer, hire a London design agency and I ended up art-directing on our side while also writing the new UI code to make it happen.

Nykris came up with a range of fascinating design sketches, but the sketches that followed the original idea of coordinating with the flavors of the new Apple hardware look, worked the best, and so we followed that path.

Gradually through Spring 1999 a design emerged that started to look like Mac IE 5 as it turned out. Shiny simple button shapes, pinstripes (a 3 pixel repeat made the pattern fine enough to not hurt readability, although it was inconvenient to code).

Mac IE lead, Steve Falkenberg, worked out how to make the system scroll bars match whatever color scheme we were using. He also worked out how to auto-detect what flavor of Mac we were on.

Program Manager, Jimmy Grewal, worked out an elegant UI for customizing toolbar layouts, which has been much imitated since.

Nykris totally redesigned how the tab strip looked and also came up with the idea of the toolbar being able to collapse INTO the tab strip down the left hand side. This gained back lots of vertical screen estate, valuable on the small screens of the day.

As Nykris sent me artwork from London, I was working out how to implement the designs in San Jose, without slowing IE down or using too much memory.

New Look was so secret that it was not in the daily Mac IE 5 builds that our QA and external beta testers were using, so everything had to be switchable on and off with a NEW_LOOK build macro and leave no trace in the regular beta builds, which continued to look like Mac IE 4.x. As I was changing a lot of UI code, keeping both builds working was tricky.

The big 24 bit icons and 8 bit masks with switchable “flavors” had to work in the same memory as the old toolbar system. The new tab code was all custom and everything had to be drawn anti-aliased (lines and text).

It rapidly came together and in Summer 1999 we demoed the secret New Look build of Mac IE5 to Steve Jobs, the first person to see it outside Nykris and a few people on the Mac IE team. Steve gave it his enthusiastic approval. Yeah!

So eventually MacWorld January 2000 came along, the venue for unveiling the Mac IE 5 beta.

Steve Jobs insisted on doing the Mac IE 5 demo himself. Tnis is where things got a little surprising. Steve first showed a new build of Mac OS X which had a new user interface called “Aqua”. This looked, well, just like the Nykris design we’d been using for half a year at that point.

He then demoed IE 5 by showing an experimental Carbon port of it on Mac OS X, and said the UI look was being inherited from the operating system (it was not – Mac IE 5 looked just the same on Mac OS 8 or 9 at the time).
Oh well, that was Steve being Steve.

So did Steve see our Summer 1999 New Look demo and tell his team to create Aqua? Who knows. Our stuff was in any case inspired by Apple’s hardware designs, so I can’t feel too bad about it.

A side note about blurred translucent windows.

Mac IE 5 launched in March 2000 with a blurred translucent autocomplete window, the first time this blurred translucent window thing was ever done. That look is everywhere right now, so people might want to know how that came about.

In the summer of 1999 I had one last big idea. The big white autocomplete window that came up under the address bar as you typed, was bothering me. It covered a lot of the web page, and the page is the star of a web browser. It felt to me like this window was hiding the context of where you are. I wrote a version of the window that made the window translucent (not trivial on MacOS 8), but the readability of the overlayed text was bad. I tried changing the tone of the background image to make it a better background, which was an improvement but still not there. Then I had the idea of also blurring the background content. After all, the eye is used to interpreting sharp foreground objects against the blurred stuff in the background, like reading letters on a shop window. This was an effect that people were used to seeing in pre-made Photoshop artwork but not something that anyone has used realtime as a live effect.

At the time, Gaussian blur was something you’d only do in Photoshop which required a lot of memory and didn’t do it very quickly. Macs did not have the kind of hardware acceleration that modern machines have, in fact most had no actual GPU.

I knew I had to write a Gaussian blur routine that took no noticeable time, used very little memory (even on a large image), and worked on any depth of content. Back then, people ran their Macs in all kinds of color depths, with 8 bit being still common.

The actual magic I came up with involved a bunch of secret programming tricks and math shortcuts and eventually I had a virtually instant blur routine that could process any pixel depth image and tonally adjust the image at the same time. In goes a picture, out comes a picture you can put black text on top of and easily read it.

I could tell once I had the right values dialed in. You could recognize the web page in the background, it felt as if you hadn’t gone anywhere, but you could read the 1990s style 9 pt aliased black type layered on top with virtually no added difficulty. The blur filtered out the high-frequency information from the background and the tonal shift gave you the contrast you needed to read the text.

The Mac IE 5 release of March 27, 2000 included that blurred translucent autocomplete window, despite some management indecision about it because the look was at the time so revolutionary. Later than year I added the effect for conxtextual menus too. Of all the UI stuff I’ve come up with over the years, this has been the most significant in retrospect. It was a key design element of Windows Vista and now iOS and the Mac. Although they almost never get the recipe right. You need blur and toning, either lightening for black text overlay or darkening for white text, and there shouldn’t be so much of either that you lose context.

Unfortunately, the Carbon port of Mac IE on Mac OS X never got the blurred translucent window code (the skeleton crew who finished the Carbon port instead used Mac OS X’s built-in translucency without blur which is not the same thing at all).

I want to extend a special thanks to my friends Tantek, Maf, Dick, Kevin, and Bertrand for refreshing my memory on the events of twenty years ago. I look forward to sharing more anecdotes about the development of MacIE 5 and the relationship between Microsoft and Apple during those years.

Apple Computer 1

A few weeks ago I became the proud custodian of an original 1976 Apple-1 computer. I collect vintage Apple computers, and for collectors like me the Apple-1 is the holly grail. I’ve been on the lookout for one for more than 20 years and the stars finally aligned to make acquiring one possible.

Apple-1 board

The Apple-1 was not a commercial success, with less than 200 units sold in just over one year; but it was the reason that the Apple Computer Company (as it was known at the time) was founded and was pivotal in Apple securing venture capital to develop the Apple ][, it’s first mass market personal computer.

Steve Jobs keynote screen grab

The story of how the Apple-1 came to be is well documented, but the individual histories of the ~200 Apple-1s that were manufactured are a little less clear. Luckily, there is an excellent online registry of original Apple-1 computers, originally created by Mike Willegal and now maintained by Achim Baqué. My Apple-1 is listed as #67 on the registry. There is also a dedicated Apple-1 online forum for owners and enthusiasts at Applefritter.com.

The Apple-1 was sold as a fully assembled motherboard in a cardboard box. The chips on these boards were hand populated by Steve Jobs’ family and friends in his parents’ house. They were then taken to the garage where they were tested, and repaired if necessary, before being shipped to a handful of retailers in the US who sold them. The Apple-1 did not come with a case, keyboard, monitor, data storage device, or transformer. It was up to the retailer or the buyer to source off-the-shelf components to complete a working systems that would have typically looked like this:

Assembled Apple-1 system

In recent years, the value of Apple-1 computers as increased significantly with recent auction prices averaging in the $350-$500k level and as much as $900k. My focus, due to budget constraints and not being totally bonkers, had been to acquire the “runt of the litter” so-to-speak and leverage the excellent PCB repair ability we have in-house at Elcome to restore it. Here’s a video documenting the process of restoring this particular Apple-1 to working condition:

We got lucky with this board. Underneath a coat of grime and sticky residue was a pristine & unmodified board that we were able to get working without replacing any of the original components. Due to the age of the components, I don’t plan on powering up this Apple-1 a lot, but it’s actually good for it to be used every couple of months to prolong the life of the capacitors. There’s not a whole lot you can do with the Apple-1 compared to the Apple ][ or modern personal computers, but we’re working on an IP interface to make it easier to load software rather than the present method of using audio files or typing them manually. Having previously assembled a couple of Apple-1 replicas allows us to experiment more easily.

The Apple-1 basically completes my collection of vintage Apple computers. I have my favorites from my collection displayed in my office: some out in the open and others a bit more discretely.

Jimmy Grewal's vintage Apple computer collection

PowerMac Table photo

I plan to put together a blog post about each of the computers in the wall display above at a later date…hopefully before the decade is out. I’ve owned some since they were new, and others were acquired specifically for my collection. I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to display the Apple-1 in my office…I’m saving that as a summer project.

My longterm plan is to partner with a public venue, like a museum, to display this Apple-1 so that anyone can see it and learn about it, the people who created it, and the technological revolution that it sparked. Until I find a permanent home for it, I’m exploring sending it on tour for temporary display at smaller museums…once I sort out all the insurance, transport, and import/export issues involved.

If you have any questions about this Apple-1 feel free to reach out on Twitter.

Transition to Intel Macs – Developer’s Perspective

Mac Universal Binary logoI came across two good blog posts from Mac software developers on the complex issues involved in porting existing, large Mac applications to run natively on Intel (x86) based Macs. One is from Scott Byer who works on Photoshop at Adobe:

…That leaves doing the work for real – taking the whole application over into XCode and recompiling as a Universal Binary. And that’s no small task…

MORE…

Rick Schaut over at the Mac Business Unit at Microsoft writes:

…Whether we had gone through the pain of porting to XCode/GCC in some earlier release of our products, we’d have still had to go through this pain. The time spent doing this work then would have to have come from the features that we were, instead, adding to our programs. Arguing that we should have, somehow, absorbed this pain earlier really has little bearing on the nature and extent of the pain…

MORE…

Microsoft Office 2007 revealed

Congratulations to Microsoft Office team for finally biting the bullet and building a completely new UI shell for Microsoft Office 2007 (Windows). Unless you worked on Office it’s very difficult to understand just what a major project this must have been and the amount of momentum that was needed to push these changes through both technically and politically.

Jensen Harris has a great blog which has documented the process of designing a new UI for Office on his blog and has posted a screenshot gallery of the recently unveiled final look for this product. I got to know Jensen when I worked at Microsoft as he was one of the people responsible for the Mac Outlook (Exchange) client. With limited resources they managed to create a very successful product which made it possible for Macs to be used on corporate networks where full Exchange support was critical. It was clear then that they were a very dedicated team and extremely focused on doing their best to satisfy their customers.

I’m curious now to see what the MacBU decides to do with Office 12 for Mac OS X. First, they have the burden of moving from CodeWarrior to Xcode which is non-trivial, then they have to handle the PowerPC to x86 transition, and finally they will need to implement the necessary changes to support Mac OS X v10.5 (Leopard). After all of this, they will then need to support the new Office 2007 file formats and consider what UI changes are necessary. My guess is that this effort is at least as difficult as the transition to Mac OS X from the Classic Mac OS, which was a massive engineering effort.

Dubai Macintosh Users Group

This is something I’ve wanted to start for twenty years, but I guess better late than never. I’m pleased to announce that a basic website for the Dubai Macintosh Users Group (DubaiMUG) is now up and running, though it’s currently woefully short on content. I’m hoping that this group will give Mac users in Dubai and the region an easy way to help each other and also work together to improve the selection and price of Apple products in the region.

Over the past few months I’ve noticed a big upswing in Mac users based in Dubai and in the region who are accessing my blog so I think the time is right for a MUG to be setup here (I believe there have been several failed attempts in the past) and try and get Apple directly involved and in touch with its customers here in the Middle East. I’ll go through the process of officially registering this new MUG with Apple once it gets a few members and is active.

I’m using Apple’s new .Mac Groups service and hope that it provides the right set of capabilities and ease-of-use to make this effort successful. Please check out the site and post your comments there or here.

https://groups.mac.com/dubaimug/

Microsoft announces new Mac keyboard & mouse

Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse for Mac

Microsoft announced a new wireless keyboard and laser mouse designed especially for Mac users. This is their first Mac specific keyboard & mouse, though most of the previous ones they have sold were compatible. As soon as I can I will order one because it looks pretty cool and has both Command (Open-Apple for those of us old-time Apple users) and Option keys. More info at MicrosoftWatch.com.

Yes, I already ordered one. :)

I’m a Mac Geek for life, and I’ve already placed my order online. What exactly did I get? Read on…

Apple Introduces MacBook Pro
MacBook Pro with Intel Core Duo Processor Up to Four Times Faster Than PowerBook G4

MACWORLD EXPO, SAN FRANCISCO—January 10, 2006—Apple® today unveiled its new MacBook™ Pro notebook computer featuring the new Intel® Core™ Duo processor which delivers up to four times the performance of the PowerBook® G4. The new MacBook Pro, the first Mac notebook based on an Intel processor, features a stunning aluminum enclosure just one inch thin, weighs only 5.6 pounds, includes a built-in iSight™ video camera for video conferencing on-the-go, and the Apple Remote and Front Row™ software for a simple, intuitive and powerful way for users to enjoy their content wherever they go. The new MacBook Pro, available in February, also features Apple’s new patent-pending MagSafe™ magnetic power connector, designed especially for mobile users

Though I really wish Apple had launched an ultra-portable Mac laptop (less than 3lbs, .75 inches thick), this machine will be a big improvement over my original 17″ PowerBook G4. In fact, it’s performance will be better than the super noisy PowerMac G5 I have at home which will now be for sale along with my PowerBook. I can’t wait to run

End of an era: Mac Internet Explorer

Mac Internet Explorer logoThe last few months have been a time of major change for me, with many things coming to an end and a few new beginnings…not enough maybe. It’s time to add one more to the list, and this blurb on the Microsoft website says it all:

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR MICROSOFT INTERNET EXPLORER FOR MAC USERS

In June 2003, the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit announced that Internet Explorer for Mac would undergo no further development, and support would cease in 2005. In accordance with published support lifecycle policies, Microsoft will end support for Internet Explorer for Mac on December 31st, 2005, and will provide no further security or performance updates.

Additionally, as of January 31st, 2006, Internet Explorer for the Mac will no longer be available for download from Mactopia. It is recommended that Macintosh users migrate to more recent web browsing technologies such as Apple’s Safari.

There was a News.com (CNET) article on this topic back in 2003 when I left Microsoft.

Four years of my life were dedicated to this product and others based on it. Those four years in the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft were incredible, and I learned many important lessons and made some great lifelong friends. The most remarkable thing about those four years was that I was able to fulfill a childhood dream…and get paid lots of money for it! My first real computer was an Apple II+ and I have been hooked on Apple’s products since I was six years old. To work in the largest Mac software development team in the world, live 15 minutes away from Cupertino, and become friends with many of the people who were instrumental in making the Macintosh successful was a dream come true.

Along the way, I gained an appreciation for Microsoft which not enough people have. It’s a truly remarkable company that treats its employees well, develops some incredible technology, and deserves all the success it has. As with any large collection of people, Microsoft has made mistakes along the way, but that does not diminish the impact it has had on billions of people’s lives and the way it has helped technology progress. I’m sure people will post some comments telling me how evil Microsoft is and that’s fine. They are wrong, but still entitled to their opinion. I am a hardcore Mac user and reformed Microsoft-hater so no one is going to be able to change my opinion since its based on first hand experience.

This announcement has sparked some debate on Slashdot, which was inevitable. Omar pointed me to a comment to this by our former co-worker Jorg Brown, who now works for Google, which I’ll quote below:

MacIE had one of the strangest and saddest histories I’ve seen, of any product.

MacIE 5 was an awesome release, critically aclaimed and everything, with a good development team and a strong testing team, that included daily performance measurement.

And yet, almost immediately after 5.0 was released, the MacIE team was redeployed to work on a set-top DVR box. The notion at the time was that the team would continue to do MacIE work in their spare time, since IE 5 was the leader among Mac browsers and no longer needed a full-time team.

The problem with that notion was that WebTV, the team’s new bosses, had no reason to actually schedule any time for real IE work. So later, when that particular set-top box got cancelled, the IE team got redployed for other WebTV work, and since this was now out of MacBU’s control, nothing could really be done.

3 or 4 years went by before enough people in the Mac division wanted to resume work on IE, and when it looked like we might actually need the technology, as a base for MSN-for-Mac, the IE 6 team was formed. It got a firm OS X-only foundation, a new even more complient browser base, and then suddenly it became apparent that Apple was doing their own browser, because, well, there were lots of small clues, but the big clues was that Apple had started calling the old Mac IE team offering them jobs.

By that time the Mac division had formally committed to MSN-for-Mac-OSX, so it’s not like we were completely going to stop work. But a meeting was held internally, the outcome of which was that it didn’t make sense to build our own browser if Apple was going to bundle one, because the marketshare and mindshare of the distant-second-place browser, on the distant-second-place platform, wasn’t worth pursuing. A week later we had a meeting with high-up people at Apple, where they told us they were doing a browser. And the week after that, after confirming it with Bill Gates, who was reportedly sad but understanding of the decision, MacIE was officially shut down.

MSN-for-MacOSX went ahead, and was also critically acclaimed, but once released, indications were that the number of users was about the same as the number of developers. After that, MacBU concentrated once again on the next Office release, and MacIE has been well and truly and permanently dead ever since.

Over the whole sad journey, the single most surprising thing I ever discovered was from a small conversation that went:

Me: “Look, if it makes sense to devote dozens of people to WinIE, then surely it makes sense to devote half a dozen to MacIE!”

Higher-up: <confused look> “There aren’t dozens of people on WinIE. WinIE had some great people on it! We need those great people on products that make money!”

Me: “Then why on earth did we pursue IE in the first place? Just so that the DOJ would sue us?”

Higher-up: <confused look>

Some day I hope to get a proper answer on our motivation to do WinIE and MacIE in the first place. It seems to be that we were scared of not having control of the HTML standard. And indeed, now that Firefox is gaining traction, Microsoft has added more people to WinIE again.

Epilogue: All of this made it a lot more easy for me to quit and go work at Google
Reminder: I may or may not be leaving some parts out for NDA reasons.

A lot of what he says is true; but the story is more complex than this and there were many other factors that came into play. Issues which he doesn’t cover…primarily because he wasn’t working on the product much until the last few months of development:

  • – Mac IE was the first real browser running on Mac OS X. We had it running on Developer Preview 2 and it shipped on the Public Beta CD-ROM. That was a great engineering achievement but it came at a very high price. Developing for OS X in those early days was a nightmare and we spent so much time struggling with OS bugs and changing APIs that precious time that could have been used to improve the product was wasted just trying to maintain compatibility with each new beta release of OS X.
  • – Apple was a pain in the ass sometimes. For a company with such great PR, they really were very unprofessional and treated developers poorly. I know that the OS X transition was tough, but there are so many stories I could tell of stupidity at Apple and policies which made no sense…but I won’t. I’ll just say that Apple had a lot more involvement in the development of Mac IE and it’s eventual end than Jorg gives them credit for. There were times during the last two years of working at Microsoft that I really hated Apple’s management…which was very difficult for me being such a loyal fan of their products and having so many friends who worked there.
  • – No clear direction from our management was the last major factor which Jorg touched upon but is important to mention again. Towards the end, we had some major changes in management at the MacBU and the new team was inexperienced both with the products they were managing and how to deal with Apple. They were further handicapped by lack of clear direction by our execs who were too busy worrying about AOL, the DOJ, and our stock price.

Anyway, enough about the history. Mac IE is dead, and it’s up to Apple and the Mozilla team to continue to innovate for us Mac users. Sadly, there are still many very useful features in Mac IE that neither company has replicated in their browsers and there are still too many sites which don’t look right in Safari. I remember calling up CNN and ESPN and getting them to fix problems in their websites…it worked and I hope Apple has a group of people doing the same thing.

Since Microsoft will no longer be offering Mac IE 5 for download on their website, I’m going to provide a community service by linking to it here. It has not been totally replaced and at least I need a place to be able to download it from for my own personal use…but you’ll have to know what to click on to download it. ;-)

If you ever want to know who the people behind Mac IE 5 were, just type “about:tasman” in the address bar of Mac IE and you’ll get a list of the people who put their heart and soul into making it such a remarkable and successful product.

EDIT: Link removed at Microsoft’s request.