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Microsoft to offer free upgrades to Windows 10 in China as it kills off Internet Explorer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 March, 2015, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 March, 2015, 6:16am

Microsoft announced this week that it was discontinuing Internet Explorer, its much-maligned but widely used web browser first released in 1995.

At the Microsoft Convergence conference in Atlanta, Georgia this week, Microsoft head of marketing Chris Capossela said that the company's new browser, announced in January and codenamed Project Spartan, will not continue the Internet Explorer brand.

While Internet Explorer will be available on Windows 10 and older operating systems for compatibility purposes, Spartan will become the company's new flagship browsers and users will be encouraged to switch.

According to Quartz, Microsoft has "been working for years to salvage the Internet Explorer brand, which languished in the public eye thanks to releases like Internet Explorer 6, widely regarded as one of the worst tech products of all time".

Though the most recent release, Internet Explorer 11, has received praise from many quarters, the brand appears to be indelibly marred by past versions, with even Microsoft itself taking shots at IE6 in a recent advertising campaign. Dean Hachamovitch, longtime Internet Explorer chief, left the company in December.

Despite its poor reputation, Internet Explorer is one of the most widely used web browsers in the world, with a more than 90 per cent market share at its peak. Though this has dropped considerably since the launch of Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome and the rise of mobile browsing, around 50 per cent of web users still use Internet Explorer, according to NetMarketShare.com.

In China, Internet Explorer remains the top web browser by total reach, with a 36 to 47 per cent market share, according to research firm China Internet Watch.

While Microsoft said it would continue to support the most recent version of IE on its various operating systems, it remains to be seen if similar problems will arise in China as they did last year when the company discontinued Windows XP, its 13-year-old operating system still widely used in China.

When the company pulled the plug on XP in April, more than 200 million computers in China, having refused or forgotten to upgrade, were left without technical support and more vulnerable to attack.

In an online survey conducted by the China Internet Network Information Centre at the time, only about one-quarter of mainland Windows XP users said they would follow Microsoft's advice on upgrading to new software. Experts estimated it would take another five years for a majority of users to migrate away from the operating system.

More than 50 per cent said they would stick with XP until the system became unusable. So while Internet Explorer may be dead, it is unlikely to disappear just yet.

Microsoft confirmed this week that Windows 10 would launch this summer in 190 countries and 111 languages, adding that it will offer free upgrades to "millions" of customers running Windows 7 or earlier.

Speaking at an event in Shenzhen, Microsoft executive vice-president of operating systems Terry Myerson said the firm would work with Chinese tech companies Lenovo, Tencent and Qihoo 360 to offer free upgrades to their huge userbase.

The company also announced a partnership with Chinese mobile giant Xiaomi whereby users of the company's Android devices will get the chance to "help test Windows 10 and contribute to its future release later this year".

Last year, Beijing announced a ban on Windows 8 for government computers, citing security concerns.

In February, Apple and Cisco Systems were also placed on the state procurement "black list" in what experts said was an attempt to shield China's domestic technology industry from competition. Beijing has previously encouraged domestic tech firms to develop a Chinese operating system to reduce reliance on foreign technology.