Firefox & Internet Explorer: Browser War IIMikey 6 comments
The browser wars are truly back on with Firefox 3 due for a September 2007 release and Microsoft recently announcing plans for Internet Explorer 8.
So what does it mean to you and I? A browser war essentially means competition between the 2 major browser developers exists, where for a long time it did not. This means both will be competing for our attention with new features, better security and faster browsing. It's win-win for end users. So why has it taken so long?
Once upon a time there were two primary browsers - Internet Explorer and Netscape. The latter although fairing better features and a vocal fan base, was eventually obliterated during what is considered the first browser war. Microsoft emerged victor with no threats on the horizon, and became complacent on a deserted battlefield. The problem with complacency is it breeds stagnation, while competition on the other hand breeds innovation, as we are about to find out.
A new contender had entered the battlefield. Out of nowhere a little thing appeared cutely named Firefox, by Mozilla Corporation. It was fast, secure, offered extensions and skins, was open source, and importantly felt just like a regular browser. At first hardly anyone noticed, but that quickly changed. At the time of writing Firefox has taken around 33% market share from Microsoft's leading browser, a number even the die hard IE fan-boys can't ignore. But it took Mozilla's browser occupying 10% of the market before Microsoft finally decided to do something about it. And after almost 6 stagnant years of poor standards support and swiss cheese security, on October 18th 2006 a counter attack was launched in the form of Internet Explorer 7.
Except they attacked with the wrong ammunition, and consequently didn't have the effect they had hope for. Specifically the hope of regaining market share and restoring faith in a resentful user base. Microsoft would have been loathed to watch Firefox actually gain even more market share during this time.
But any loathing on Microsoft's part would have been unwarranted and misguided. One of the driving reasons behind Firefox's success (and there are many reaons) has been the excellent support for web standards, and could be argued as being the main compelling force behind it's growing popularity. Internet Explorer in stark contrast is often criticised for its lack of innovation and poor web standards support, the latter causing headaches for web developers to which my colleagues and I can personally testify.
Internet Explorer 7 was poorly viewed by the web development community at large, with poor standards support still plaguing what is otherwise a valiant attempt at a new browser. Internet Explorer lead developer Chris Wilson is very aware of the new browsers failings, and before we knew it he announced plans to deliver Internet Explorer 8.
"It's clear we have a lot to do with the Web developer platform" ~ Chris Wilson.
Web development issues asides, regular Joe Surfer will usually be content to just use the browser that came bundled with his computer, which as it happens is usually always Internet Explorer. And therein lies a challenge faced by the competing browsers. Microsoft Windows being on over 90% of desktops combined with non-tech-savvy Joe Surfer often not even realising there are alternatives to Internet Explorer (let alone where to find them) will make the challenge of obtaining further market share that much more difficult for Mozilla. Professional web developers will choose the browser with higher web standards support and better security over IE every time, and we are only to happy to spread Firefox evangelism. But there are only so many of us.
One could argue that to a small degree Mozilla is helped along by Internet Explorer's failings. Which ever way you look at it Microsoft are clearly back in the game and Browser War II is on. With the right ammo they could play nice with web developers and start innovating, and maybe even gain kudos in the process.