There’s been a lot of talk on the forums about the so-called ‘Browser Wars’. I admit I am one of those who tries to persuade people to use Opera over Firefox over IE, although not many people on the forums know much about the real browser wars over the last decade or so.
NCSA Mosaic was the first ever web browser for Windows. For a while, it was basically the only web browser for Windows, which basically ensured its popularity. However, this popularity wasnt actually that great, because in the very early 90s, the average person didnt have internet access, and it was mainly reserved for a certain ‘core’ of elite geeks, companies and corporations. In 1993, 97% of people who browsed the web used Mosaic.
Then, in 1994, along came the Navigator.
The rise of Netscape Navigator and the fall of NCSA Mosaic is what I am going to call the First browser war. In this browser war, Netscape Navigator basically crushed Mosaic within two years. It boasted more features than Mosaic. From its release in 1994, its market share increased dramatically, peaking at around 80% usage share around 1996, and as such reducing Mosaic’s market share to less than 10%.
Meanwhile, in 1996, a Norwegian company called Telenor released their first public version of Opera. It was originally a research project, although later branched out into a full company, called Opera Software ASA.
But there was a now infamous adversary lurking around the corner. In 1995, a small company called Spyglass was approached with a business proposition, to take their browser, build on it, then release it and give Spyglass a chunk of the profits. Spyglass had taken some of the source code of NCSA Mosaic and made their own Spyglass Mosaic, and it was looking like a good browser. The company Spyglass were approched by was…
In 1995, Microsoft released a pack of extra applications for Windows 95. This pack of extras, called Microsoft Plus! Included Space Cadet Pinball, that game we all played when we first got our XP systems; DriveSpace 3, a disk compression solution; and the Internet Jumpstart Kit, which included the very first version of the infamous Internet Explorer.
Internet Explorer did not gain widespread popularity quickly, despite its popularity today. It took a few years to displace Netscape and become the number 1 browser. It wasnt really until the inclusion of Internet Explorer within Windows 98 that it really took off. Now that people had a browser included in their operating system they didnt need to decide between Netscape and Mosaic and IE, IE was just there, ready to use, included in the operating system.
Over the next three years, Internet Explorer slowly but surely crushed Netscape. In January 1998, the developers of Netscape decided to create the open source Mozilla project, but still continued to be crushed by Internet Explorer. The Mozilla Suite was soon created, which had a small, but loyal following, but never really gained much ground over Internet Explorer.
The (slow) rise of Mozilla Firefox
On September 23rd, 2002, a new piece of software released from the Mozilla Foundation, codename Phoenix, was released. Over the next few months, it was developed further, and renamed Mozilla Firebird. At version 0.8 in February 2004, it was renamed Firefox, and steadily gained market share. At the release of Firefox 1.0, Firefox continued to gain more and more market share.
On the Mac, Apple’s own browser, Safari, started gaining in popularity as well. Previously, Internet Explorer for Mac had been popular, although was discontinued in 2003, and was not included in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.
Over the next two years, Opera, Firefox and Safari continued to gain market share, and despite the release of Internet Explorer 7, which boasted many features that had been in other browsers for quite some time (tabbed browsing has been in Opera for eleven years), they continue to grow.
The future of the browser wars
Being the anti-IE-pro-Opera fanboy I am, I’d like to say that Opera will crush everything and win forever and ever and … well, it’s never going to happen. I will say, though, that I think Safari, Firefox and Opera will all grow in market share. The computer manufacturer Dell may be considering shipping Firefox with Windows PCs, and its Ubuntu computers will have Firefox by default. Then there’s the fact that Mac sales are increasing by the day – meaning more and more people are using Safari. Coupling those with the fact less and less savvy computer users are using alternative browsers, attracted by superior security, features and speed; and we can guess IE will lose more and more market share.
There will always be people who use IE. There are some hopeless fanboys out there who refuse to use anything but IE, and there will always be people who dont know that there’s anything else. The fact it comes with Windows will always ensure its popularity while Windows is still popular.