Monday, January 6, 2020

20 Years Ago: Internet Explorer 5 and iTools

Jimmy Grewal (thread):

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5 for Mac. This was both the most important release of Internet Explorer for the Mac, and the last release.


The standards compliant rendering engine for MacIE 5 was not shared with the Windows version. It was a new, independent code base designed from the ground up by @t and @sfalken to handle both existing web content and newer standards compliant content.


The UI of MacIE 5 was a major departure from any existing MS product, or for that matter any Mac software. Microsoft engineer @MafVosburgh hired UK based Nykris to design the iMac inspired “new look” as it was called internally. […] This “new look” had an uncanny resemblance to Apple’s later Aqua interface for Mac OS X. However it was developed in complete secrecy within Microsoft. When we previewed MacIE 5 with the “new look” to Apple in the Summer of 1999, Jobs was not pleased.


Media Toolbar was based on code licensed from the developers of SoundJam MP, a popular MP3 player. Unbeknownst to us, Steve Jobs too had his eye on SoundJam and it’s lead developer Jeff Robbin. Jobs insisted we cut this feature claiming it undermined QuickTime.


Traditionally, a Microsoft exec would come on stage to unveil and demo our products. In this case, Apple’s insisted that Jobs would do the demo himself. Talking points were agreed, but much to our dismay Jobs didn’t mention a single one.

I really liked Internet Explorer 4.5 for Mac OS 9. It rendered well and quickly and had a good user interface. Version 5 for Mac OS X also worked well, but the faux-Aqua interface and toolbar buttons never felt right to me, and—like nearly everything with 10.0—it felt slow.

Cabel Sasser:

I was a huge IE Mac fan. When they introduced support for .png with alpha — maybe the first browser to do so? — I built a DHTML (lol) Audion Face previewer that let you drag around the faces on our web page, and that really blew a lot of minds.

Bill Davis:

Apple’s original internet strategy turns 20 today. Who remembers iTools? I still use my email that I set up on January 5, 2000.

Update (2020-01-07): John Gruber:

What struck me about this demo is Jobs’s attention to minor UI details — like the fact that the Carbon IE 5 app used the same Aqua scrollbars as a Cocoa app. The pace and conversational tone — and the assumption that everyone watching cares as much as Jobs himself does about nitty-gritty UI details — feels very unlike a modern day Apple software demo. It’s easy to get sucked into the whole video, but the unveiling and demo of Apple Mail that follows has that same thing going for it.

Maf Vosburgh:

I devised and coded the Mac IE 5 media toolbar in the second half of 1999. The toolbar could stream music playlists or play video in a floating movie window, while you browsed the web. It had a lovely UI designed by Nikki Barton. It was cool.

Initially I got it working with QuickTime Streaming and then I got indie developer Jeff Robbin to write me a custom plugin to add support for SHOUTcast stream and decode (MP3 over HTTP), using bits of existing code from his app SoundJam. This was all working in 1999.


The weird thing is that the whole feature was basically a love letter to QuickTime Streaming with open standard SHOUTcast as an after-thought. The people up in Redmond wanted us to be implementing Video for Windows support instead and we didn't want to because we were Mac heads.

Update (2020-02-06): Jimmy Grewal:

I designed the MacIE 5 toolbar customization feature and was surprised when I saw the same implementation a year later in Mac OS X 10.0. Though @siracusa described it as “shamelessly reminiscent” of MacIE 5, I’m happy that it lives on in macOS and iOS.

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