SEOUL — In South Korea, one of many world’s most technologically superior nations, there are few limits to what will be accomplished conveniently on-line — besides when you’re utilizing the incorrect internet 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. If you’re utilizing Apple’s Safari, you’re unable to use for artist funding by means of the National Culture and Arts web site. And when you’re a proprietor of a kid care facility, registering your group with the Health and Welfare Ministry’s web site shouldn’t be attainable on Mozilla’s Firefox.
In all of those instances, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or the same different, is the required browser.
When Microsoft shut down Internet Explorer, or IE, on June 15, the corporate stated 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. But in South Korea, IE shouldn’t be some on-line artifact. The defunct browser remains to be wanted for a small variety of crucial banking and government-related duties that many individuals can’t dwell with out.
South Korea’s fealty to Internet Explorer, 27 years after its introduction and now into its retirement, presents a heavy dose of irony: a rustic identified for blazing broadband and revolutionary units is tethered to a buggy and insecure piece of software program deserted by many 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. Internet Explorer is lower than 1 %, based on Statcounter. And but after the announcement from Microsoft, there was a last-minute scramble amongst some important websites to arrange for all times after IE.
The South Korean arm of the British financial institution Standard Chartered warned corporate customers in May that they would wish to start out utilizing the Edge browser in “IE mode” to entry its “Straight2Bank” web banking platform. Various Korean authorities web sites instructed customers that some companies would doubtless face disruptions if they didn’t change to Edge.
In May, Naver, one in all Korea’s greatest web firms, highlighted a function of its Whale browser that enables entry to websites that required Internet Explorer. Kim Hyo, who heads Naver’s Whale staff, stated the corporate had initially added the choice in 2016. He thought it could not be wanted when Microsoft shut down IE.
But as the ultimate days approached, Mr. Kim realized that some Korean web sites wouldn’t make the change in time, so he stored the function and adjusted its title to “Internet Explorer mode.” Modernizing web sites that had catered to IE for many years was “quite a large task,” he stated, and a few websites “just missed the deadline.”
South Korea’s reliance on Internet Explorer dates again to the Nineteen Nineties when the nation turned a forerunner in utilizing the web for banking and buying. In order to guard 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 an individual’s signature.
Verifying an individual’s identification required extra software program that linked to the browser, generally known as a plug-in. The South Korean authorities approved 5 firms to concern such digital certificates utilizing a Microsoft plug-in referred to as ActiveX. But the plug-in solely labored on Internet Explorer.
At the time, utilizing a Microsoft plug-in appeared like an apparent alternative. Microsoft Windows software program dominated the non-public pc market within the Nineteen Nineties, and Internet Explorer had leveraged that place to change into the dominant browser. Because key Korean web sites required IE, different web sites started catering to Microsoft’s browser, reinforcing its significance. By one estimate, Internet Explorer had 99 % market share in Korea between 2004 and 2009.
“We were really the only game in town,” stated James Kim, who led Microsoft in South Korea from 2009 to 2015. Mr. Kim, who now heads the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, stated Microsoft didn’t attempt to thwart the competitors, however loads of issues “didn’t work” with out IE.
Kim Keechang, a legislation professor at Korea University in Seoul, stated Internet Explorer’s stranglehold on South Korea was so full within the early 2000s that almost all South Koreans “couldn’t name another browser.”
When Mr. Kim returned to South Korea in 2002 after educating overseas, he found that he couldn’t do something on-line together with his pc operating Linux, a free, open-source different to Windows, and Firefox. Every 12 months, he went to an web cafe to entry a pc with IE with a view to file his taxes on a authorities web site.
In 2007, Mr. Kim filed a lawsuit towards the Korea Financial Telecommunications & Clearings Institute, one of many 5 government-approved personal firms assigned to concern digital certificates. He argued that the corporate, which issued about 80 % of South Korea’s certificates, had unjustly discriminated towards him by not permitting different browsers.
Over a three-year interval, Mr. Kim misplaced the case, misplaced the enchantment and misplaced on the nation’s Supreme Court. But 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 appearance of smartphones, an trade 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 guidelines that authorities web sites ought to be suitable with three totally different internet browsers. But 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 expertise had failed to fulfill its goal as a result of the plug-in software program had really made customers much less secure.
Microsoft launched Edge in 2015 as a alternative for Internet Explorer and the corporate stated it was not supporting ActiveX within the new browser. Chrome turned the nation’s high browser three years earlier.
In 2020, South Korea amended the 1999 legislation to get rid of the necessity for digital certificates, a transfer that appeared to shut the guide on ActiveX and Internet Explorer. That similar 12 months, Microsoft began eradicating assist for IE in a few of its on-line companies. A 12 months later, the corporate introduced that it deliberate to retire Internet Explorer altogether.
While a lot of the world joked about Internet Explorer’s demise, one South Korean engineer marked the event in a extra somber means.
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 good tool to download other browsers.”
Mr. Jung stated he had his share of frustrations with Internet Explorer, however he felt the browser that had launched so many South Koreans to the online deserved a correct goodbye. “Using Internet Explorer was difficult and frustrating, but it also served a good purpose,” Mr. Jung stated. “I don’t feel good about just retiring it with a, ‘we don’t need you anymore’ attitude.”