Some Internet Explorer Innovations You Probably Forgot About While Waiting for IE6 To Die

Lost in the past few years of IE6 based stagnation (and ensuing developer angst) is the fact that the Internet Explorer team have come up with some pretty cool enhancements to the way we build web sites over the past ten plus years.

So, while we’re cheering on Firefox’s growing market share, hesitantly eying IE8 and waiting for the ugly stepchild of the browser landscape, IE6, to finally die a painful (and hopefully immediate) death, I thought I’d lay out some of the innovations introduced by Internet Explorer to remind us of relatively positive days gone by*.

As a fun exercise, while you’re reading this, compare these innovations to the black hole left in the web development world by the long and terrible reign of IE6. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of help vs. harm. Here’s hoping future versions of the browser continue to trend closer to the “help” line as IE7 has and IE8 appears to be doing**


For those that don’t know, XMLHttpRequest (XHR) is an API used by JavaScript to transfer XML (and other text formats like JSON and plain text) data between a browser and the web server.

This one is obviously pretty big. While “Ajax” the phrase coined by Jesse James Garret of Adaptive Path, didn’t spring directly from Redmond, a large part of it, and therefore much of the recent innovation in the way web interfaces are programmed, does spring from the creation of the XMLHttpRequest (XHR) object. Originally an ActiveX object, XHR is so far entrenched into the way web works right now it’s not even funny.

Personally, without Ajax making JavaScript the hot language it is today, I wouldn’t be half as marketable as I currently am.

Introduced in Internet Explorer 5.0


This JavaScript property is a read/write interface to the HTML markup and content within a given element.

All day, every day I use the innerHTML property. Faster than the DOM methods for object creation and insertion setting innerHTML is normally my first choice whenever I do DOM manipulations.

Introduced in Internet Explorer 4.01


Like a frame, an iframe (“inline frame”) is an HTML element that allows you to embed a HTML document inside another HTML document. The iframe is the earliest innovation this list, appearing all the way back in 1996.

Humorously (or tragically depending on where your allegiance lies- Mountain View or Redmond,) a good portion of the GOOG empire is built on the iframe as the search giant uses an iframe to deliver its advertising on non-Google properties (you can see one in action on this very page.)

Introduced in Internet Explorer 3

The favicon

A favicon (favorites icon) is an icon associated with a particular website or webpage. The favicon not be the innovation that affects me the most on a day to day basis, but judging by the chatter generated by Google’s new favicon, I think a lot of people notice that little browser accessory.

Introduced in Internet Explorer 4

overflow-x, oveflow-y

Maybe not the biggest impact, being able to set the overflow property in one dimension is an immensely handy thing to be able to do and I’m happy to have it in my list of tricks.

*This is 100% focused on only technology. Anti-competitive practices and killing Netscape are definitely NOT positive.

**it should be added that while I’m pleased to develop for IE7 in comparison to IE6, it still falls short of what I’d like to see in terms of standards support. Hopefully IE8 will knock it out of the park, but until that time, I’d much rather everyone just go with Firefox, Safari or Opera :)

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