Market Forces Make Microsoft's Browser Share More Vulnerable, More Key

Kachina Shaw

After taking a look at the state of the browser market, The New York Times concluded this week that the war is heating back up. Microsoft's Internet Explorer has seen its market share slide to 75 percent, mostly because of Firefox's gains. The open source browser now claims 18 percent of the market, the article says (though we have to remember that many users run more than one browser), and version 3.0 is being released next month.


Apple has pushed Safari's share up to 5 percent, partly by sending it out in automatic updates through iTunes, which apparently has tripled the placement of the browser on Windows machines since March.


By the end of the year, users will have that new version of Firefox available, plus likely the finished version of IE8. Developers for both products claim that they have added the kinds of new features that will change the way people interact with content on the Web. Firefox's popularity grew quickly based on additions it made in versions 1 and 2, such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking. It will now offer more user personalization and search results based on browsing history. This last feature is unfortunately named the "awesome bar," which sounds more like a dessert. Mozilla's head Mitchell Baker also says it will make using someone else's computer/browser "very awkward."


IE8 is focusing on manipulation of information, like allowing users to grab and watch dynamic pages or portions of pages in a section of the browser, or grab and place snippets of data on the fly. This last feature, though it sounds like an addition that could be momentous, when we all start creating mashups left and right, is known as Activities. Really, who names these things?


Since the last new version release of either IE or Firefox, more and more computing, for both consumers and enterprises, has been moving off the desktop and onto the Web. A future in which a computer requires only a browser to access any other tool or application is mentioned in the Times piece in passing, but for Microsoft, the issue is more than conjecture. (See this piece for a nice round-up of where Google currently sees itself in the progression toward Web-based computing, complete with a strategy based on more apps + more users = more Google searches + more Google revenue.)


Mobile browsing, not mentioned in the Times piece, can't be discounted as a growth area, either, as portable devices allow more of our computing to be done away from the PC. Microsoft projects no less than 50 percent growth in sales for the Windows Mobile operating system for FY 2008 and FY 2009, according to InformationWeek. That'll put IE Mobile into the hands of some 20 million users in 2008. The newest version of IE Mobile will be out to end users by the end of the year, including support for both Flash and Silverlight.


The tech news today is also full of stories on new funding for one startup company to watch, Skyfire, which has developed a mobile browser said to rival Safari for Web page rendering, and adding support for touchscreens, Flash and AJAX, plus lightning speed. The company is testing its product with the Windows Mobile OS in hopes of going to market head-to-head with the iPhone, but at a lower price point. (Interestingly, today's news also brings to light a Samsung phone that, come summer, will have the Apple Safari browser on it.)

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