Microsoft recently announced that it is finally going to kill off “The Blue E”, Internet Explorer. Not only is it not going to ship with Windows 11, but it can’t be installed, either. Any attempt to call the old browser up will be met with a redirect to Microsoft’s newer Chromium-based Edge browser.
This, of course, has a number of big companies howling. Some of their ancient “web-based” services, which ran in that browser and that browser only, are going to be up the creek without a paddle when new Windows 11 computers come out. They had years of warning, and it was obvious for years prior that adapting to browser-neutral modern web services was the way forward, but there are always a few stubborn companies that refuse to upgrade, change, or do anything else to adapt to change.
What’s “Legacy” Software & Hardware?
At the core, this is what “legacy” hardware or software is. Companies like Microsoft endeavor to support older software and hardware for as long as they can, sometimes hindering progress to keep old stuff running. Eventually, though, the industry has to move on, and the last few people clinging to old stuff are left out in the cold.
The term “Legacy” started when BIOS manufacturers would allow you to put a computer in Legacy Mode, so that the computer could act like an older computer, but at the expense of not enabling newer processing features.
When I worked as a computer technician in college, I saw this regularly. One guy I knew who worked in the real estate industry had some ancient software he was using from before 1990. It wouldn’t even run on Windows 95, and he asked me for help keeping it running in 2003. His ancient computer with a 286 processor died, but I helped him piece together working components we hunted down from around town, ultimately building a “new” computer for him that would run DOS, Windows 3.1, and the software. Apparently, the software had cost him something like $5,000 in 1990, and would cost $7000 to upgrade, so he figured it was worth the $1500 it took to pay me to hunt down the parts, and the $500 the parts cost us instead of upgrading.
A medical clinic I helped out at had a similar problem. They had two doctors who refused to change to the newer version of a software, and had an old Unix server of some kind running, along with some ancient networking equipment, so the doctors could access the server to track their patients and make requests for paper medical records. A team of 10 employees spent all day shuffling, sorting, and delivering the paper records to doctors, and then collecting them back up and filing them away again.
Most of the doctors wanted to move to a paperless system, but the old doctors who refused to upgrade together owned more than half of the clinic’s stock. Eventually, one of them passed away, and the other doctor (whose office was loaded with obnoxious Christian decor) got arrested on child pornography charges. The system was upgraded soon after these events.
There are many stories I could tell of insane people spending big bucks to keep old computer systems or software running, but suffice it to say, it’s more common than people think, unless they’re working in an industry or government enterprise that’s stuck on some old stuff that the bureaucracy refuses to get rid of.
Does “Legacy Auto” Make Sense?
Many Tesla fans, who were computer nerds or professionals before Tesla came along, know the origins of the phrase “Legacy Auto.” Some might not, so I’ll go ahead and draw the connection.
The idea is that like legacy software and hardware, society is foolishly hanging onto internal combustion cars when Tesla has made them obsolete. Like the real estate guy who cobbles together an ancient computer to keep old software running, or the doctors who run ancient equipment and shuffler paper around the office like it’s 1975, the big automakers are supposedly doing the same thing.
The problem is, we aren’t quite at that point yet, but it’s definitely coming.
When IE was new in 1995, it was struggling to compete with Netscape, the dominant browser of the 90s. By 2003, and through the practice of bundling (which the company was sued for), Microsoft managed to get 95% of people to use the browser. Later, when they became complacent and the browser ran slowly, alternatives that ran better and had more features killed the browser’s market share. By 2016, market share dipped into the noise floor of unpopular browsers, while Chrome dominated and Apple’s Safari climbed into the double digits.
Right now, gas cars are where Internet Explorer was at in 2003-2005. Even with all of the progress that has been made, they only amounted to about 4-5% of global car sales. That’s a lot more than it has ever been, but gas still has a long way to fall. If someone had called Internet Explorer legacy software in 2003, people would have laughed, but today, the browser is undoubtedly legacy.
Before anyone jumps me in the comments and accuses me of pushing internal combustion engines, let me say that it will definitely happen, and relatively quickly. My estimate in another article of gas being around until 2070 was discussing the day the last of the daily-driven gas engines sold wears out and hits the junk yard. That’s the very end of the tail end, and not the beginning of the end, which we’ll see closer to 2030-2040, when a serious decline in gas vehicle sales happens.
In short, gas vehicle sales, sold through dealers, are now at their peak, and still hold over 90% of the market. Thus, we can’t quite yet call them Legacy. In a few years, when they drop to a small minority of the market, they’ll become a legacy system.
What Will Real Legacy Auto Look Like?
When that really happens, we’ll see a number of powerful indicators.
First off, we’ll start to see the first issues with availability of gasoline. People still running a gas car will have to start using apps like GasBuddy to look for any gas they can get on some of their travels, and not just to find the lowest price like today. When gas cars truly go legacy, people will have to start planning their trips and fueling stops ahead of time instead of starting the search for an exit with gasoline when the fuel gauge gets to 1/4.
A second indicator will be that they’re getting harder to buy new. Looking for a manual transmission car isn’t impossible today, but many models don’t come that way anymore. There are whole car lots without a single stick-shift car now. Expect that to start happening to gas-powered cars when that truly happens. Instead of having to hunt for an EV, the few people who want a gas car will have a lot more homework to do, and they’ll have salespersons telling trying to talk them into buying an EV.
Like computers, the next indicator will be loss of support. Shops will eventually quit working on them, starting with the dealers, and slowly spreading among independent shops. There will come a point where the new automotive technicians and mechanics won’t know what to do when a mechanical water pump, alternator, or starter goes out. They might find an internet video or a virtual reality experience that teaches them how to do it in a few minutes, but that’ll be more pain than many are willing to put in without some extra pay for the job.
In other words, when gasoline cars become unusual outside of hobby and collector use, that’s when they’re truly going to be legacy cars. Some people will struggle to keep them going in various ways, but most people will move on just like people moved on from Internet Explorer.
Featured image by Daniel Cardenas, CC-BY 3.0.