The Never-Ending Browser Wars

Carl Weinschenk

This is, in a way, a post as much about how things have changed as it is about browsers. It wasn't that long ago that Internet Explorer dominated a landscape in which all but experts were hard-pressed to name other competitors.

Those halcyon days are long gone, which is something of a theme for Microsoft these days. In fact, according to InformationWeek, the growth of Chrome, Safari and the rest-coupled with a new approach by Microsoft and the EC-has unseated IE from the top spot in Europe. The story goes through market share in January of 2010 and at the end of the year. In the earlier period, various versions of IE were at 45 percent, with Firefox at about 40 percent.

Last month, IE fell to 37.52 percent. The story says that Firefox also has fallen, but didn't provide a percentage. The change was driven partly by Microsoft's Browser Choice Screen, which, as the name suggests, helps users choose a browser-and in many cases isn't IE. The piece said the big winner last year was Google's Chrome, which finished the year at 14.15 percent.

IE isn't done yet, however. AfterDawn reported on year-end browser results from Net Applications. Chrome, the story said, finished strong and barely fell short of the 10 percent mark (it ended December at 9.98 percent). IE, at 57.08 percent, still towers over Firefox, which ended at 22.81 percent. IE lost 5.31 percent and Firefox lost 1.70 percent over the course of the year.

The battle is far from over, of course. ConceivablyTech reports that Internet Explorer 9 RC (Release Candidate) will be available on Jan. 28. (Here's a review from PC Magazine). ConceivablyTech points out the RC will be available before Mozilla releases the beta of the next version of Firefox. The competition is so intense, however, that it starts far before the official release:

Microsoft recently said that the beta version of IE9 has been downloaded more than 20 million times, which is an impressive result, but not enough to turn the tides in the current browser war. While 20 million downloads should have resulted in a market share of nearly 2%, Microsoft is still below 0.5%, according to Net Applications. This indicates that only one in four downloaders keeps actually using IE9 Beta. In comparison, Google's Chrome now hits 0.35% market share for its developer and beta browser versions-without marketing and within less than 4 weeks. Microsoft needed 14 weeks to hit 0.46% market share for the IE9 Beta.

Observers have a lot of fun following the competition in what is known as the "browser wars." The bottom line is that if there ever was a textbook case in which the open market works, it is browsers. When Microsoft is kept from coupling IE to Windows, the market becomes extremely competitive. This drives competition and innovation among a number of vendors including, of course, Microsoft. The winners are consumers, who get more highly-functioning products.



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