SEOUL — In South Korea, one of many world’s most technologically superior nations, there are few limits to what might be executed conveniently on-line — besides in the event you’re utilizing the flawed internet browser.
On Google Chrome, you possibly can’t make enterprise funds on-line as a company buyer of one of many nation’s largest foreign-owned banks. For those who’re utilizing Apple’s Safari, you’re unable to use for artist funding by way of the Nationwide Tradition and Arts web site. And in the event you’re a proprietor of a kid care facility, registering your group with the Well being and Welfare Ministry’s web site is just not potential on Mozilla’s Firefox.
In all of those circumstances, Microsoft’s Web Explorer, or an analogous various, is the required browser.
When Microsoft shut down Web Explorer, or IE, on June 15, the corporate mentioned it could 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 is just not some on-line artifact. The defunct browser remains to be wanted for a small variety of important banking and government-related duties that many individuals can’t reside 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 progressive units 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 utilization. Web Explorer is lower than 1 %, in response to Statcounter. And 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 clients in Could that they would wish to start out utilizing the Edge browser in “IE mode” to entry its “Straight2Bank” web banking platform. Numerous Korean authorities web sites informed customers that some companies would doubtless face disruptions if they didn’t swap to Edge.
In Could, Naver, considered one of Korea’s largest web firms, highlighted a characteristic of its Whale browser that enables entry to websites that required Web Explorer. Kim Hyo, who heads Naver’s Whale crew, mentioned the corporate had initially added the choice in 2016. He thought it could 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 swap in time, so he stored the characteristic and adjusted its identify to “Web Explorer mode.” Modernizing web sites that had catered to IE for many years was “fairly a big activity,” 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 the intention to shield on-line transactions, the federal government handed a regulation in 1999 requiring encrypted digital certificates for any matter that had beforehand referred to as for an individual’s signature.
Verifying an individual’s id required further software program that linked to the browser, generally known as a plug-in. The South Korean authorities licensed 5 firms to problem such digital certificates utilizing a Microsoft plug-in referred to as ActiveX. However the plug-in solely labored on Web Explorer.
On the time, utilizing a Microsoft plug-in appeared like an apparent alternative. 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 Korea between 2004 and 2009.
“We have been actually the one sport 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 Microsoft didn’t attempt to thwart the competitors, however quite a lot of issues “didn’t work” with out IE.
Kim Keechang, a regulation 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 Mr. Kim returned to South Korea in 2002 after instructing overseas, he found that he couldn’t do something on-line together with his pc working Linux, a free, open-source various to Home windows, and Firefox. Yearly, he went to an web cafe to entry a pc with IE with the intention to file his taxes on a authorities web site.
In 2007, Mr. Kim filed a lawsuit in opposition to the Korea Monetary Telecommunications & Clearings Institute, one of many 5 government-approved non-public firms assigned to problem 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 a three-year interval, Mr. Kim misplaced the case, misplaced the attraction 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 scale back its reliance on Microsoft. In 2010, the nation issued tips that authorities web sites needs to be suitable with three totally different internet browsers. However altering the plumbing of South Korea’s web was not simple — particularly as banks and bank card firms stood by the prevailing 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 satisfy its goal as a result of the plug-in software program had truly made customers much less secure.
Microsoft launched Edge in 2015 as a alternative for Web Explorer and the corporate mentioned it was not supporting ActiveX within the new browser. Chrome grew to become the nation’s high browser three years earlier.
In 2020, South Korea amended the 1999 regulation to get rid of the necessity for digital certificates, a transfer that appeared to shut the guide on ActiveX and Web Explorer. That very same 12 months, Microsoft began eradicating help for IE in a few of its on-line companies. 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 approach.
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 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 superb software 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, but it surely additionally served a superb goal,” Mr. Jung mentioned. “I don’t be ok with simply retiring it with a, ‘we don’t want you anymore’ perspective.”