Browser Wars – Then and Now


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By Carl Weiss

Photo Credit: mediag.com
Are browser wars real? Are the Internet giants really fighting for the hearts, minds and eyeballs of computer users worldwide? Does it matter which browser I use? Aren’t they all the same? Who cares which browser is used the most? The real answer to this and other important internet questions are raised and explained in this telling tale of Browser Wars, the ongoing saga of the fight between Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Opera.

The Past Tells a Tale


Usage share of web browsers according to StatC...
Usage share of web browsers according to StatCounter, Chrome was 23.16% in August 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Those of us who can remember back to the start of the Internet will recall the initial clash of titans as Netscape, one of the web’s first commercially viable web browsers, duked it out with Microsoft, (see our previous article from Sepember 13th, 2012). Even though Microsoft was a Johnny-come-lately in the browser game, IE eventually chipped away at Netscape’s dominance, largely due to its virtual monopoly in the PC operating system market.  It also helped that Microsoft gave away IE with virtually every copy of Windows 95 that it sold, whereas Netscape charged for its browser.  This resulted in AOL, who had acquired Netscape in 1998, filing a lawsuit against Microsoft.  While the suit was settled in AOL’s favor in 2004 for $750 million, it was a case of Netscape winning the battle and losing the war, since by then IE was the clear market leader. By 2007, IE owned 77% of the browser market, compared to Firefox with16% and Netscape six tenths of one percent.

The Emergence of a New Giant



google chrome
google chrome (Photo credit: toprankonlinemarketing)
However, this overwhelming victory did not lead to a cessation of hostilities.  In the intervening five years, this technological cold war became hot again as a new player entered the fray. While Microsoft rested on its laurels, with a full five years passing between the release of IE 6 and 7, Google Chrome made its presence known in a big way.  Released in December of 2008, Chrome amassed 37% of the worldwide browser market by 2013.  It did this in part due to the fact that it is fast, secure and stable.  It also introduced a lot of features, such as form auto fill, full screen mode and drag and drop tabs.  More importantly Chrome has also been designed to sync between PC’s, smartphones and tablets.

Windows 8 and What it Means


Windows 8 on the big screen!
Windows 8 on the big screen! (Photo credit: bobfamiliar)
Of course, that didn’t mean that Microsoft was going to take the emergence of a dynamic competitor like Microsoft lying down.  In fact, it was the allure of the emerging mobile computing market that made Microsoft take a leap of faith with the development of Windows 8.  A radical departure from its long line of operating systems, Windows 8 has been seen as so radical a departure from anything that has come before.  In fact, it is so different that technology review remarked that,

“Windows 8 is a computer science masterpiece trapped inside a user interface kerfuffle. Microsoft’s new operating system for phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and servers brims with innovative technologies, bold ideas, and visual elegance. The system’s radical new interface, called Modern, is a pleasure to use on phones and tablets. And although that interface fares poorly on today’s larger desktop computer screens, Windows 8 probably won’t damage the company’s standing in corporate America. It might even shore up its eroding presence on residential desktops and laptops by offering a user experience that’s new, fun, and different from anything offered by Apple and Google.”

Legal Battles are Won and Lost



EU vs. Microsoft Monopoly
EU vs. Microsoft Monopoly (Photo credit: sepponet)
Of course, not everyone sees Windows 8 in a positive light, including the EU, which recently fined Microsoft $733 million for denying users in the EU its choice of web browsers.  An article in asiantribune.com points out:
“Microsoft used to give its users the opportunity to choose the web browser, when they installed Windows 7 operating system, in line with an agreement reached with the European Union in 2011. According to European Commission, however, between May 2011 and July 2012, over 15 million EU customers were not given that opportunity, owing to what Microsoft classified as a ‘technical glitch’ made by its software engineering team.

Glitch or not, Microsoft’s actions and the resulting fine harken back to the original browser war with Netscape.  This comes as little surprise to those in the know, since according to statistics from StatCounter, Internet Explorer is still dominant in North America with 39% of the browser market.  However, Google Chrome is the big dog in exotic locales such as Europe, South America and Asia.  And Mozilla’s Firefox is still a contender, with 16% of the US market, 28% of the European market and 18% of markets in Asia, South America and Africa.

Microsoft is also not averse to firing a few shots across the bows of competitors, as Google found out it was pulled into a patent lawsuit that could lead to a ban of Google maps in Germany.

According to Florian Muller of FOSS Patents, Microsoft’s EP0845124 patent in Europe is for a “computer system for identifying local resources and method therefor” and was issued in 1996. The issue was discussed in a regional court in Munich today and as Mueller notes, it doesn’t look like Google was able to convince the judge “that the patent is highly probable to be invalidated at the end of a parallel nullity proceeding.”

Should Microsoft win the injunction, Google would be forced to shut down its mapping service in Germany on both PC and mobile networks.  It could also be ordered to stop selling Chrome in Germany unless it blocks German users from accessing Google Maps.

Speaking  of Outcomes, What about FireFox and Safari?



Browsers
Browsers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Firefox is now in its 19.02 release and is going stronger than ever. Like Chrome, it is a leading edge product with lots of innovations. It is also considered one of the most stable platforms in the browser wars. It has an extremely loyal following and has held the number one spot in the browser wars in the US for a few of the months in 2012. As a matter of fact it all depends on who's statistic you read sometimes. I personally like Firefox a lot and use it everyday along with Chrome.

Apple’s Safari usage growth is not going up. Although Safari has been available for most computer platforms, its adoption rate is dismal. Having said that, it performs is good and its stability is excellent. You would expect no less from an apple product. Anyone who creates web pages need to have a copy of Safari on their system. This lets them see how their web page design looks on apple computers, tablets and other Apple smart devices.

What is Opera?


The fifth browser is Opera. It has such a small share of the overall browser market, which for some barely worth mentioning. However, a diverse market is a healthy market. As a browser, Opera is full featured and has good performance. In essence, it does most things very well. I always like having at least the top five browsers on my system just in case my primary browsers get infected with malware or they stop working due to a bad update. Having said that I don’t see hoards of people running out to load Opera on their systems anytime soon.


browsers
browsers (Photo credit: kjhosein)
We use five browsers to test web pages at Working the Web to Win and Safari in one of those top five. As website designers and publishers we have to test web pages for compatibility. The fact is, no two browsers display a web page exactly the same. At Working the Web to Win, we want all the pages that we build to look great, so sometimes we have to compromise how a web page displays in one browser, in favor of how it looks in another. Why would you favor one browser over another? We program pages to meet the compatibility features of browsers that have the most users. For us that means, IE, Chrome, FireFox, and Safari. We also check Opera to at least see how it looks.

While the outcome of the latest iteration of the browser wars is anything but certain, the battle for the hearts and minds of the web surfing public is so lucrative that this clash of the titans could result in total domination by one of the combatants.  Or, it could leave the door open to yet up-start, who realizes that this is the perfect time to stage coup because the other browser superpowers are too engaged, in a take-no-prisoners brand of warfare to be paying attention.

In this article, I covered the ongoing saga of the browsers wars past and present. I have laid out the current conflict as it stands today and have discussed the current positions of the dominant players, their new weapons and their never ending legal issues. The reader can see where the current battles are headed.  If you liked this article please share it with your friends and co-workers and leave us a note. If you have a different idea or comment leave that, too. 


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Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.com.



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