Jimmy Grewal on IE 5 for Mac

Jimmy Grewal, writing on Twitter:

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. Here are some anecdotes and thoughts from an insider’s perspective. […]

It’s easy to forget, but IE 5 for Mac was a great app. Here’s a good Steve Jobs anecdote:

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.

Since no one outside Apple was supposed to know about Aqua at the time, he couldn’t say anything to us about the resemblance; instead he directed his ire at another new feature in MacIE 5 called Media Toolbar. This feature provided support for playing back MP3s on websites.

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 its lead developer Jeff Robbin. Jobs insisted we cut this feature claiming it undermined QuickTime.

Microsoft cut the feature, and regretted it. As far as I’m aware, this story has never been told before. Actually, I don’t think either story in this anecdote had been told before — neither the SoundJam-based MP3 player they intended to bake into IE nor the fact that IE 5’s “new look” was something the IE team came up with independently. Everyone I know always assumed that Apple had disclosed the IE team on the Aqua look-and-feel.

Grewal includes a link to Steve Jobs unveiling and demoing IE 5 on stage at Macworld Expo SF 2000. The video quality is terrible — somehow it’s very overexposed — but it is captivating nonetheless. 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. What Jobs is saying, effectively, is “Look at how we’re sweating every single detail.

Monday, 6 January 2020