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Internet Explorer 3

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Internet Explorer 3 on Windows 95 Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 (IE3) is the third, and by now, discontinued, version of the Internet Explorer graphical web browser which was announced in March 1996, and was released on August 13, 1996 by Microsoft for Microsoft Windows and on January 8, 1997 for Apple Mac OS (see IE for Mac). It began serious competition against Netscape Navigator in the first Browser war. It was Microsoft's first browser release with a major internal development component. It was the first more widely used version of Internet Explorer, although it did not surpass Netscape or become the browser with the most market share. During its tenure, IE market share went from roughly 3-9% in early 1996 to 20-30% by the end of 1997. In September 1997 it was superseded by Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.

IE3 was the first commercial browser with Cascading Style Sheets support. It introduced support for ActiveX controls, Java applets, inline multimedia, and the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) system for content metadata. This version was the first version of Internet Explorer to use the blue 'e' logo, which later became a symbol of the browser. Version 3 came bundled with Internet Mail and News, NetMeeting, and an early version of the Windows Address Book, and was itself included with Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2. There were 16-bit and 32-bit versions depending on the OS.

This is the first version of Internet Explorer developed without Spyglass source code, but still used Spyglass technology, so the Spyglass licensing information remained in the program's documentation. In 1996 Microsoft said of its new browser "Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 adds many new features which are great for HTML authors and demonstrates our accelerating commitment to W3C HTML standards."

Internet Explorer 3 requires Windows 3.1 or Windows NT 3.5 at the minimum. It is the last version of Internet Explorer to support Windows NT 3.5 and Windows NT 4.0 RTM--SP2; as the following version, Internet Explorer 4 only supports Windows NT 4.0 SP3 or later.

Internet Explorer 3 is no longer supported, and is not available for download from Microsoft.

Table of contents
  1. Overview
  2. Bundled software
  3. Platform
  4. Encryption
  5. Version history


Internet Explorer 3.0 was released free of charge on the August 13, 1996 by bundling it with Windows 95 OSR2, another OEM release. Microsoft thus made no direct revenues on IE and was liable to pay Spyglass only the minimum quarterly fee. In 1997, Spyglass threatened Microsoft with a contractual audit, in response to which Microsoft settled for $8 million U.S. Version 3 included Internet Mail and News 1.0 and the Windows Address Book. It brought the browser much closer to the bar that had been set by Netscape, including the support of Netscape's plugins technology (NPAPI), ActiveX, frames, and a reverse-engineered version of JavaScript named JScript. Later, Microsoft NetMeeting and Windows Media Player were integrated into the product and thus helper applications became not as necessary as they once were. CSS were introduced with version 3 of Internet Explorer. While IE1 and IE2 were said have "paled" in comparison to Netscape, IE3 "delivers a crushing blow to Netscape". The user interface notably changes, with much larger buttons, with more intricate icons, and with a light gray design behind it. Unlike later IE versions, users who upgraded to IE3 could still use the last IE by converting the previous version to a separate directory. It could import favorites into IE3 from IE1 or 2. The competition between Netscape and Microsoft heated up, with some saying the Internet community "became polarized on the issue of which web browser had the most features." Other new features included ActiveMovie multimedia API, HTML Layout Control, Quick Links toolbar, VRML.

Microsoft announced on July 29, 1996 that it would develop a native version of IE for "Solaris and other popular variants of UNIX" to be available "by the end of 1996" which would have "equivalent functionality as that provided in Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0", thus "delivering on its commitment to provide full-featured Web browser support on all major operating system platforms" as well as "supporting and promoting open standards, including HTML, ActiveX and Java". In March, 1997 following a dispute which "arose between Microsoft and Bristol concerning each other's performance of the 1996 IE Agreement" and likely because of contract negotiations with Bristol to access Windows source code after September 1997 failing, Microsoft reversed course and decided to directly port the Windows version in-house using the MainWin[archive.org] XDE (eXtended Development Environment) application from Mainsoft, the main competitor to Bristol Technology. (Microsoft would later use MainWin to port Windows Media Player and Outlook Express to Unix.) Now well behind schedule, the 3.0 branch was apparently scrapped in favor of 4.0 (that was released for Windows half a year earlier), which used the new MSHTML (Trident) rendering engine. An Internet Explorer 4 Beta for Solaris was released by the end of 1997, leading to Internet Explorer for UNIX versions, which lasted until Internet Explorer 5.

Backwards compatibility was handled by allowing Users who upgraded to IE3 to still use the last IE, because the installation converted the previous version to a separate directory.


The Princeton Word Macro Virus Loophole was discovered on August 22, 1996, nine days after Internet Explorer 3's release, which could allow Webmasters to cause an end-user's computer to initiate downloads without their consent via a backdoor. Microsoft patched the vulnerability the following day; however, researchers went on to find more vulnerabilities and new types of problems, such as the ability to spoof a website (similar to the later phishing problem), with these issues triggering public concern over browser security. In early 1997, Microsoft released IE 3.02 as an update to fix most of the discovered security problems.

Microsoft Authenticode became inoperable on June 30, 1997, when its trust anchor expired. After this, IE users needed to upgrade to Authenticode 2.0 which required at least IE 3.02. Authenticode is a code signing technology.

Internet Explorer version 3.0 for Macintosh

See also: Internet Explorer for Mac

Internet Explorer 3 for Macintosh was released on January 8, 1997 for PPC, and added support for the SSL and NTLM security protocols and the PICS and RSACi rating systems that can be used to control access to websites based on content ratings. On November 5, 1996 Microsoft announced the release of a beta version for Mac of Internet Explorer version 3.0. This release added support for HTML version 3.2, CSS, Java applets and ActiveX controls. Keith Mitchell of Macworld noted in November 1996, when discussing the IE mac version, "With the near-simultaneous release of Netscape Navigator 3.0 (415/528-2555, http://www.netscape.com) and Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 (206/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com), both companies are tripping over each other to entice Web users to their products." A problem with an operating system extension used in the Mac OS called CFM68K Runtime Enabler, led to a delay in the release of the version 3.0 for Macs based on the 68k line of processors. Four months later on May 14, Microsoft released version 3.01 which included a version for 68k-based machines. This version included features from the Windows version of Internet Explorer 4.0 such as AutoComplete and Monitoring Favorites that notified users when sites in their Favorites list have been updated. It included support for JavaScript and introduced a Download Manager and a Cookie Manager. The download manager was introduced in version 3.01; version 3.0 would open the download progress bar in the main browser window, forcing the user to either cancel the download and restart it in a new window, or wait for the transfer to complete. MacUser's review noted "While Netscape Navigator 3.0 is more feature-laden and consequently bigger and slower than previous incarnations, Microsoft Internet Explorer has been refined and optimised into a Web browser that has almost as many features, but is both smaller and faster than its rival."

Bundled software

IE3 launched with a variety of integrated apps. The following is a list of those apps and a brief description for each. Later versions of Internet Explorer 3 included the following: IE3 also included Microsoft Java Virtual Machine, which continued to be included until IE5.5. Because of a legal battle between Sun Microsystems (the developer of Java), Microsoft stopped offering it in 2001, although it was supported for several years after this (until the end of 2007).


Internet Explorer 3 runs on Windows 3.1, Windows NT 3.5, Windows NT 3.51, Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0. Version 3.0 was included in Windows 95 OSR2, but Windows 98 launched with IE4. Major Microsoft's OS releases after Windows 98, switched to supporting Internet Explorer 4 (or higher). Internet Explorer 3 had a Beta supporting Solaris (UNIX). IE4 integration with the OS meant systems that upgraded from Internet Explorer 3 to 4.0, or came with 4.0, could not easily revert to IE3 (see Removal of Internet Explorer). The Mac OS version supported PPC and 68k Macs, superseding IE 2.1. Microsoft released various 16- and 32-bit versions for Windows.

Internet Explorer 3.03, and subsequently 3.03 Service Pack 1, were released for IE3 after the launch of Internet Explorer 4.0. Both editions of IE 3.03 were released for Windows 3.1x and Windows NT 3.5 only.


Internet Explorer 3 was the first version of the browser to support SSL 3.0. The last patch versions of Internet Explorer 3 supported 40-bit and 128-bit encryption, using Server Gated Cryptography (SGC). 256-bit encryption would not become available in IE for nearly 10 years, with the Windows Vista version Internet Explorer 7.

128-bit encryption was available or included for these versions: If it was not possible to upgrade to 128-bit, then 40-bit (SGC) was standard.

Version history

32-bit Internet Explorer 3 version numbers are in the form of 4.70.####, where # represents a varying digit.

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