Mike's general stuff ~ Random

The browser market, how the situation may develop

I read an article from evolt.org recently on the state of the browser market here ,which I thought was in places just plain inaccurate, and in others over-simplifying the issues it was describing, so I decided to write up my own opinion on the situation.

The Current Competitors

From the browser statistics I have access to, I would say it goes something like this:

Internet Explorer

Microsoft won the past browser war. There's not a lot of point in going into the how's and why's, as most people know this already. IE now has, as far as most websites' statistics show, even probably the most techie/geeky websites, probably 90% or over of the browser share.

Microsoft recently officially declared, in glaring opposition to the anti-trust settlement, that there would no longer be any new releases for IE for previous operating systems as they would require too much change to the underlying operating system, and that IE is part of the OS now.

My opinions on this announcement:

MS is rubbing the DoJ's nose in it, which they can do without worry of much reprisal, as they effectively bought off the opposition with concessions of cheaper and/or free MS software for themselves. This tactic is much like their tactics to strongarm PC suppliers into supplying only their wares. Perhaps the states didn't notice the irony dropping off this particular deal with them, or perhaps they chose to ignore that.

MS feels it has now won the browser war permanently. This means that development time in Internet Explorer primarily can be restricted to only bug fixing. IE has never earned MS any direct profit, and if they were to continue developing it with the same amount of resources as they did during the browser wars and dot-com boom, they would start feeling the pinch financially. Also, from the announcement, as IE advancement has already come to a complete standstill as far as previous MS OS users are concerned. Probably also as far as future MS OS users are concerned too, as why should MS care if W3 standards are improved for greater web browser functionality? OK, so future MS OS IE users will probably get a few innovative scraps thrown to them, such as window skinning, but otherwise most of the development regarding IE will go into technologies like DRM, and what MS define as "Trustworthy Computing".

Looking on the bright side, this might serve as an opening for browser competitors to gain some browser share for the forseeable future. Web designers, who have been fond of adhering to IE's "standards" rather than adhering the open standards, might actually have to change their ways if they want to do anything that is particularly innovative now.

The funny thing about the evolt.org article I feel was this quote: "Why is Microsoft unwilling to fix the CSS bugs that everyone's been asking it to fix for ages? I think it's not unwilling but unable to do so. Explorer's code engine cannot be updated any more."

What happened? Did someone lose the admin password to the IE sourcecode server? MS could rewrite any of its products from the ground up (even if that was required to fix a few bugs in IE's CSS implementation, which I doubt), but quite frankly to them it would seem like a waste of effort when the users will settle for what they get currently served up.


As of version 4, I'm pretty much in agreement with the evolt.org article I read recently. Netscape development cornered itself, and without a severe jolt in the right direction, there was no chance of this changing. The severe jolt came in the form of Mozilla becoming an open source effort, and a complete re-write from the ground up, including a new rendering engine that didn't exhibit the drawbacks that hindered Netscape development so greatly. However, I do not see Netscape's market share changing much except for decreasing as AOL decided that Netscape shouldn't have many of the features that were so popular with users, such as pop-up window blocking, and Netscape incorporated AOL-specific additions that could only serve to drive non-AOL users away from it.


I've been keeping an eye on Mozilla development for the last four years I guess. I started using it as my primary browser instead of IE around the time of it v0.9.8 if I remember correctly, and before then I was simply installing new builds to see how far it had got. In the time it took for Mozilla to reach v1, the user interface had been redesigned twice (to its great improvement in my opinion), and it became a usable product. Not for everyone, it still had some significant issues, but it was also significantly better than Netscape 4, and a good deal more "website compatible" than Netscape 4 was. Since then it has been significantly improved, mainly in the department of bug fixing, but also some extra features along the way Once it had hit version 1.3, I think it had become a usable product for the masses, and version 1.4 is a significant improvement, particularly in performance, over v1.3.

The section in the evolt.org article: "The Project in Trouble", I would say is the point of view from an outsider who has paid very little attention to what is going on. The quote "but except for an increasingly meaningless string of new releases nothing seems to happen", except, as anyone who uses Mozilla seriously knows, it is becoming a better performing and less buggy product. I would like to know what the author of the article expects from a sub-version release, maybe every UI option needs to be re-arranged and a new default skin is necessary in his opinion?

On the subject of Mozilla development, when I first saw the off-shoot product called "Phoenix" (now "Firebird", due to trademark issues), based on the Mozilla codebase but a browser-only product, I was worried, particularly as the official line from mozilla.org was that it would become the standalone replacement and the starting of a new development line that would eventualy replace how Mozilla currently is. It looked like it was trying to imitate IE, badly. It was just as slow as Mozilla in starting up, and memory usage was much the same. However, since v0.6, it has started to show the kind of start-up time that people looking to change from IE have come to expect from a web browser, and apart from the IE-alike bookmarks shortcut on the personal toolbar, I like it. Much the same is also beginning to happen with the standalone release of a mail client called Thunderbird, also under the wing of the Mozilla project, which takes the front-end design from Firebird and the rest of the mailnews codebase from Mozilla, it hasn't even hit version 0.1 yet and it is almost a usable mail client. Personally I think given another 6 months to a year, both these products will be mature enough to replace their respective components in Mozilla.

Regarding Firebird and Thunderbird, it is also interesting that this is the first time in a large opensource project, that planning an off-shoot, slimmer and faster developent from the original codebase has successfully occurred (at least as far as I know, or it rarely happens). For example, there was an attempt at creating an off-shoot with the xfree86 project, but the idea got shot down due to internal political differences as well as not a particularly good approach in suggesting the idea. I think another big issue in creating an off-shoot to a large opensource project is that developers don't aren't particularly eager to pretty much throw away all their past coding effort to 'start all over again'. A similiar thing occurs in businesses, except that the primary factor against significant code re-writes is money, and if it isn't absolutely certain that it will benefit the business's profit in both the long and short term, it probably won't happen.


Personally I pay a small amount of attention to Opera, I will admit this outrightly. From what I have seen, I don't really like the GUI style, how various things are placed in the front-end, so I have not used it 'seriously'. Also from what I've seen, this is the opinion of many people who try the browser. However, as of v7, it is a fast, compact browser, which is quite standards-compliant. One minor issue in it I feel is, that it is only a browser, it has no mail/news capabilities.

Opera has a significant following, though significantly less than its competitors I have previously described, coming in at fourth place. Personally I think its browser share will continue to steadily increase for a while, but will end up with a cut that resembles Apple's current slice of the computer desktop market. That also depends on whether it can maintain a decent subscriber base. I imagine the company (Opera Software) gets a decent income from Opera's palmtop/embedded versions, it could well be their primary source of income at the moment.


Another thing to admit outrightly, I have never used Safari. It is Apple's own web browser, obviously Mac-only, a recent new contender in the browser market, and possibly the reason why MS have bowed out of the Mac market with IE. It could also be the case that MS couldn't go integrating DRM-type technologies without access to the OS, and they're not going to provide one version of IE that is free from all the evil 'features' they can think of, and another that isn't on their own operating system, as that might serve as a reason for users to change to using Macs.

In browser statistics I have access to, Safari is coming in at 5th place, not far behind Opera. The fact that it is for the Mac only is going to restrict its browser share, but I would guess that Apple wishes to increase its share of the desktop computer market, as its main income is obviously from that market, and I doubt Apple will change from a mainly-hardware company to a strictly software company at any point soon.


This is the browser developed by the team who develop KDE for UNIX variants. I have used it occasionally, and felt that it was quite a capable and usable web browser. It currently commands a very small share of the browser market, and Mozilla currently commands the graphical web browser market on UNIX variants, and I think that Konqueror is held back by the fact that many people don't like KDE.

In Conclusion

I thought for a while that MS's announcement may be a feint, a cover for another tactic, but now I feel that it is genuine at least for the forseeable future - being that IE will hold most of the browser share for at least the next few years. IE might come back into 'standalone development' as MS call it, if IE browser share generally drops under less than 50%, but otherwise I doubt it. One point in the evolve.org article that I agree with is that users generally do not care what web browser they are using, unless it is significantly broken, they won't bother checking out the competition. If AOL had continued to roll out the latest version of Netscape based on Mozilla to its subscribers, then that might have constituted a severe stroke against the IE browser share, but now that will not happen.

I think once Mozilla has changed to standalone versions of the major components (browser, mailnews, composer), and provided they are good performers and quick to start up, Mozilla's browser share might increase significantly.

If Opera were to release a mailnews component/program, it might also break new ground.

I believe MS have shot themselves in the foot regarding new versions of IE being unavailable for older operating systems, as users generally don't upgrade the OS on their computer, and get only a new computer when that is necessary, however for "new stuff", upgrading applications software is something the average user actually quite likes doing, as it constitutes a bit of variation from time to time. Once IE begins to stagnate, and look ancient compared to the competition, users will start looking for their 'upgrade fever' elsewhere. Admittedly, IE hasn't changed very much since version 5 in capability, mainly because MS had won that browser war already. I think MS's current plan regarding the net is to secure the server market so that they can make the entire process of browsing the Internet a proprietary technology.