Browser wars

Browser wars

The term "browser wars" refers to the competition for dominance in the web browser marketplace. The term is used to denote two specific periods of time: the competition between market-dominating Netscape Navigator and its eventual defeat by Microsoft Internet Explorer during the late 1990s, and the competition between the dominating Internet Explorer and several emerging browsers that has gone on since 2003, most notably including Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Opera and, in late 2008, Google Chrome.


In the early 1990s, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, an Internet-based hypertext system which quickly became popular and defeated rivals including Hypercard and Gopher. Berners-Lee wrote the first web browser WorldWideWeb, later renamed Nexus to avoid confusion, and released it in 1991 for the NeXTstep platform.

By the end of 1992, many other browsers appeared, many of them based on the libwww library. These included many Unix browsers including Line-mode, ViolaWWW, Erwise and MidasWWW, as well as MacWWW (also known as Samba) for the Mac. This resulted in some choice among browsers and the first real competition among them, especially on Unix which now had several different graphical and text browsers available.

In 1993 more browsers were released - Cello, Arena, and Lynx also came out. The most notable of these, however, was the multiplatform Mosaic, developed at NCSA, would start to become the most popular. Mosaic's new features caught the attention of many. In the October 1994 Issue of "Wired", Gary Wolfe notes in the article, "The (Second Phase of the) Revolution Has Begun: Don't look now, but Prodigy, AOL, and CompuServe are all suddenly obsolete - and Mosaic is well on its way to becoming the world's standard interface."

Several companies licensed Mosaic to create their own commercial browsers, such as Spry Mosaic and Spyglass Mosaic. By 1994, Mosaic faced competition from its shells and new browsers including IBM Web Explorer, Navipress, SlipKnot (1.0), MacWeb, IBrowse, and most significantly Netscape Navigator.

One of the Mosaic developers, Marc Andreessen, founded the company Mosaic Communications Corporation and created a new web browser named Mosaic Netscape. To resolve legal issues with NCSA, the company was renamed Netscape Communications Corporation and the browser Netscape Navigator. The Netscape browser improved on Mosaic's usability and reliability - as well as boasting the then-impressive feature of being able to display pages as they loaded. By 1995, helped by the fact that the browser was free for non-commercial use, the browser dominated the emerging World Wide Web.

By 1995, Netscape faced some new competition from OmniWeb, WebRouser, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 1.0, but continued to dominate. By 1996, the market had exploded with half a dozen new browsers as well as updates to older browsers, with Netscape releasing version 2.0 and 3.0 that year. Netscape was on top, but would soon be facing heavy competition from Internet Explorer in 1997.

The first browser war

By mid-1995, the World Wide Web gradually began receiving a great deal of attention in the popular culture and mass media. Netscape Navigator was the dominant and most widely used web browser at that time, while Microsoft had just licensed Mosaic as the basis of Internet Explorer 1.0 which it released as part of the Microsoft Windows 95 Plus! Pack in August 1995.

Internet Explorer 2.0 was released by Microsoft as a free download three months later. Compared to Netscape Navigator, the software was available for all Windows users for free, including commercial companies.

New versions of Netscape Navigator (later bundled with applications and branded Netscape Communicator) and Internet Explorer were released at a rapid pace over the following few years.

Development was rapid and new features were added to one-up their competitors - notably, this included the emergence of the similar-but-incompatible JavaScript implementations (the one in IE being called JScript), as well as proprietary HTML tags such as the notorious Blink and Marquee elements. The introduction of new features often took priority over bug fixes, and therefore the browser wars were a time of unstable browsers, shaky Web-standards compliance, frequent crashes, and many security holes.

Internet Explorer only began to approach par with its competition with version 3.0 (1996), which offered scripting support and the market's first commercial Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) implementation.

In October 1997, Internet Explorer 4.0 was released. The release party in San Francisco featured a ten-foot-tall letter "e" logo. Netscape employees showing up to work the following morning found that giant logo on their front lawn, with a sign attached which read "From the IE team." The Netscape employees promptly knocked it over and set a giant figure of their Mozilla dinosaur mascot atop it, holding a sign reading "Netscape 72, Microsoft 18" (representing the market distribution). [ [ Mozilla stomps IE ] ]

Internet Explorer 4 changed the tides of the browser wars. It was faster and adopted the W3C's published specifications more faithfully than Netscape Navigator 4.0. Unlike Netscape, it provided the possibility for truly "dynamic" pages in which the flow of the text and images of the page could be altered after the page was loaded. Installing Internet Explorer 4.0 was considered as a system upgrade that would provide more capabilities such as MP3 playbackFact|date=August 2008 and, optionally, the Windows Desktop Update. Internet Explorer 4 also integrated itself into the operating system, a move broadly criticized, especially by IT professionals and industry critics, variously for being technologically disadvantageous and an apparent exploitation of Microsoft's OS near-monopoly on the PC platform with Windows in order to push uneducated users to become IE users simply because IE was "already there" on their PCs.

During these times it was common for web designers to display 'best viewed in Netscape' or 'best viewed in Internet Explorer' logos. These images often identified a specific browser version and were commonly linked to a source from which the "preferred" browser could be downloaded. To some extent, these logos were indicative of the divergence between the "standards" supported by the browsers and signified which browser was used for testing the pages. In reaction, supporters of the principle that web sites should be compliant with Internet (W3C) standards and interoperable with any browser started the "Viewable With Any Browser" campaign, which employed its own logo similar in form to the partisan ones.

Internet Explorer 5 & 6 dominance

Microsoft had three strong advantages in the browser wars.

One was resources: Netscape began with about 80% market share and a good deal of public goodwill, but as a relatively small company deriving the great bulk of its income from what was essentially a single product (Navigator and its derivatives), it was financially vulnerable. Netscape's total revenue never exceeded the interest income generated by Microsoft's cash on hand. Microsoft's vast resources allowed IE to remain free as the enormous revenues from Windows were used to fund its development and marketing, resulting in rapid improvements. Netscape was commercial software for businesses but provided for free for home and education users - Internet Explorer was provided as free for Windows users, cutting off a significant revenue stream.

Another advantage was that Microsoft Windows had over 90% share of the operating system market. IE was bundled with every copy of Windows; therefore Microsoft was able to dominate the market share easily as customers had IE as a default. In this time period, many new computer purchases were first computer purchases for home users or offices, and many of the users had never extensively used a web browser before, so had nothing to compare with and little motivation to consider alternatives; the great set of features they had gained in gaining access to the Internet and the World Wide Web at all made any modest differences in browser features or ergonomics pale in comparison.

Thirdly it was faster and it adopted the W3C's published specifications more faithfully than Netscape Navigator 4.0. Unlike Netscape, it provided the possibility for truly "dynamic" pages in which the flow of the text and images of the page could be altered after the page was loaded.

Other Microsoft actions also hurt Netscape: Microsoft created a licensing agreement with AOL to base AOL's primary interface on IE rather than Netscape. Microsoft purchased and released a web authoring tool as a competitor to Netscape's Composer, FrontPage, making it easy to utilize proprietary extensions and non-standard HTML code in web pages. Microsoft included support for the fledgeling CSS in IE. Some web designers found it easier to write their pages for IE only than to support Netscape's proprietary LAYER extensions. Microsoft also locked up a large portion of the Macintosh browser market in 1997 as part of its agreement with Apple that year to make Internet Explorer for Mac the default browser on the Mac for five years.

The effect of these actions was to "cut off Netscape's air supply". These actions eventually led to the United States Microsoft antitrust case in 1998 which found that Microsoft had abused its monopoly on operating systems to unfairly dominate the market and eliminating competition. This, together with several bad business decisions on Netscape's part, led to Netscape's defeat by the end of 1998, after which the company was acquired by America Online for USD $4.2 billion. Internet Explorer became the new dominant browser, attaining a peak of about 96% of the web browser usage share during 2002, more than Netscape had at its peak.

The first browser war ended with Internet Explorer having no remaining serious competition for its market share. This also brought an end to the rapid innovation in web browsers; until 2006 there was only one new version of Internet Explorer since version 6.0 had been released in 2001. Internet Explorer 6.0 Service Pack 1 was developed as part of Windows XP SP1, and integrated into Windows Server 2003. Further enhancements were made to Internet Explorer in Windows XP SP2 (released in 2004), including a pop-up blocker and stronger default security settings against the installation of ActiveX controls.


The browser wars encouraged two specific kinds of behavior among their combatants.

# "Adding new features instead of fixing bugs:" A web browser had to have more new features than its competitor, or else it would be considered to be "falling behind." But with limited manpower to put towards development, this often meant that quality assurance suffered and that the software was released with serious bugs.
# "Adding proprietary features instead of obeying standards:" A web browser is expected to follow the standards set down by standards committees (for example, by adhering to the HTML specifications) in order to assure interoperability of the Web for all users. But competition and innovation led to web browsers "extending" the standards with proprietary features (such as the HTML tags <font>, <marquee>, and <blink>) without waiting for committee approval. Sometimes these extensions produced useful features that were adopted by other browsers, such as the XMLHttpRequest technology that resulted in Ajax.

Support for web standards was severely weakened. For years, innovation in web development stagnated as developers had to use obsolete and unnecessarily complex techniques to ensure their pages would render properly in Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. Netscape Navigator 4 and IE6 lacked full compliance with several standards, including CSS and the PNG image format.

Internet Explorer's ubiquity, its lack of updates and its integration into the operating system also created additional problems due to security holes allowing drive-by downloads and the execution of malicious code on users' machines.

The second browser war

thumb|Usage_share_of_alternative_web_browsers:_[ [ Market share for browsers, operating systems and search engines ] ] legend|Orange|Other]

After the defeat of Netscape by Internet Explorer, Netscape open-sourced their browser code, which led to the formation of the Mozilla Foundation—a primarily community-driven project to create a successor to Netscape. Development continued for several years with little widespread adoption until a stripped-down browser-only version of the full suite was created, featuring new ideas such as tabbed browsing and a separate search bar. The browser-only version was initially named "Phoenix" though because of copyrights that name was changed to "Firebird" and then finally, for the same reason again, to "Firefox". This browser became the focus of the Mozilla Foundation's development efforts and Mozilla Firefox 1.0 was released on 9 November 2004, since when it has continued to gain an increasing share of the browser market.

In 2003, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1 would be the last standalone version of its browser. Future enhancements would be dependent on Windows Vista, which would include new tools such as the WPF and XAML to enable developers to build extensive Web applications.

In response, in April 2004, the Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software joined efforts to develop new open technology standards which add more capability while remaining backward-compatible with existing technologies. [ [ Position Paper for the W3C Workshop on Web Applications and Compound Documents ] ] The result of this collaboration was the WHATWG, a working group devoted to the fast creation of new standard definitions that would be submitted to the W3C for approval.

On 15 February 2005, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 7 would be available for Windows XP SP2 and later versions of Windows by mid-2005. [ [ IEBlog : IE7 ] ] The announcement introduced the new version of the browser as a major upgrade over Internet Explorer 6 SP1.

Opera had been a long-time small player in the browser wars, known for introducing innovative features such as tabbed browsing and mouse gestures, as well as being lightweight but feature-rich. The software, however, was commercial, which hampered its adoption compared to its free rivals until 2005, when the browser became freeware. On 20 June 2006, Opera Software released Opera 9 including an integrated source viewer, a BitTorrent client implementation, widgets, and which passed the Acid2 test - the first Windows browser to do so. Opera Mini, a mobile browser, has significant mobile market share as well as being available on the Nintendo DS and Wii.

On 18 October 2006, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7. It included tabbed browsing, a search bar, a phishing filter, and improved support for Web standards - all features familiar to Opera and Firefox users. Microsoft distributed Internet Explorer 7 to genuine Windows users (WGA) as a high priority update through Windows Update. [ [ Microsoft tags IE 7 'high priority' update | CNET ] ] Typical market share analysis showed only a slow uptake of Internet Explorer 7, and after statistics in September 2007 from showed Mozilla Firefox at 35.4% had taken over from Internet Explorer 6 at 34.9% as the most popular browser [ [ Browser Statistics ] ] with Internet Explorer 7 lagging behind in third place at 20.8%, Microsoft dropped the requirement for WGA and made Internet Explorer 7 available to all Windows users in October 2007. [ [ IEBlog : Internet Explorer 7 Update ] ]

On 24 October 2006, Mozilla released Mozilla Firefox 2.0. It included the ability to reopen recently closed tabs, a session restore feature to resume work where it had been left after a crash, a phishing filter and a spell-checker for text fields.

An October 2006 Softpedia article notes, "IE6 had the lion's share of the browser market with 77.22%. Internet Explorer 7 had climbed to 3.18%, while Firefox 2.0 was at 0.69%" [ "IE7 and Firefox 2.0 Are Slaughtering Internet Explorer 6 - Out with the old, in with the new", by Marius Nestor, Linux Editor ]

In 2003, Apple had begun work on a new browser to replace the discontinued Internet Explorer for Mac. Basing the rendering engine on the open-source KHTML rendering engine from the Konqueror project, Apple created the WebKit project and a browser named Safari, which shipped with Mac OS X v10.3 later that year. On 6 June 2007, Apple released a beta version of Safari 3 for Microsoft Windows.

On 19 December 2007, Microsoft announced that an internal build of Internet Explorer 8 has passed the Acid2 CSS test in "IE8 standards mode" - the last of the major browsers to do so.

On 28 December 2007, Netscape announced that support for its Mozilla-derived Netscape Navigator would be discontinued on 2008-02-01, suggesting its users to migrate to Mozilla Firefox. [cite web|url=|title= The Netscape Blog|accessdate=2007-12-28 |work= Netscape, AOL] ,but on 28 January 2008, Netscape announced that support be extended to 1 March 2008, and mentioned Flock, alongside Mozilla Firefox, as an alternative to its users.

Google released a beta version of a new open source browser called Chrome for Microsoft Windows on 2 September 2008. Mac OS X and Linux versions are still under development. Although not officially released, figures from NetApplications attribute to Chrome a usage share that averaged 0.77 % during the 17th to the 23rd September 2008. [cite web | url = | title = Trend for 'Chrome 0.2' | accessdate = 2008-09-23 | publisher =]

NetApplications further reports that, as of August 2008, Internet Explorer had 72% market share compared with Firefox's 20% and Safari's 6%, leaving Opera and all the others sharing the remaining 2%. [cite web | url= | title=Top Browser Share Trend | | accessdate=2008-09-07]

Other browser competition

Microsoft Windows

Although it currently only has a small desktop usage share, Opera is the third most popular browser on Windows (it is also available on other platforms, including Linux, Mac OS X, the Nintendo DS and Wii, as well as the Symbian S60 platform). In September 2005, Opera removed the ad banner and licensing fee from their browser with the release of Opera 8.5. Their stated goal was to replace Firefox as the second most used web browser. In June, 2007, Apple's Safari browser was released for Windows in beta form. In March, 2008, Apple released Safari 3.1 and began including it as a pre-selected update in the Apple Software Update program.cite web
url =
title = Browsers Are a Battleground Once Again
accessdate = 2008-05-29
date= created May 26, 2008
publisher = The New York Times
] Since then, Safari's market share on Windows has tripled.cite web
url =
title = Apple's Gamble: Push Safari to Windows Users via Software Updates. Did it Work?
accessdate = 2008-05-30
date= created May 30, 2008
publisher = Net Applications

Google released its own browser, named Google Chrome, on September 2, 2008, borrowing technology both from Apple's Webkit and Mozilla's Firefox [] . Their goal is to compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox and eventually become the most used web browser. []

Other notable browsers for Windows are SeaMonkey (a replacement for the Mozilla Application Suite) and the discontinued Netscape 9. Front ends for the IE shell like Maxthon, Avant Browser and Enigma Browser that added features like tabbed browsing to IE were once popular, but with the advent of Internet Explorer 7, are falling out of use since Internet Explorer 7 now includes tabbed browsing.

Linux and Unix

The Unix-based Konqueror browser is part of the KDE project and is the primary competitor against Mozilla-based browsers (Firefox, Mozilla/SeaMonkey, Epiphany, Galeon, etc.) for market share on Unix-like systems.Konqueror's KHTML engine is an API for the KDE desktop. Derivative browsers and web-browsing functionality (for example, Amarok has a Wikipedia sidebar that gives information about the current artist) based on KDE use KHTML. [ [ KDE 2 Architecture Overview - KDE's HTML Library ] ]

Mac OS X

Safari is Apple's web browser for Mac OS X. The web browser is based on WebKit, a derivative of the KHTML engine. Other Mac browsers including iCab (since 4.0), OmniWeb (since 4.5), and Shiira use the WebKit API, and many other Macintosh programs add web-browsing functionality through WebKit. [ [ - BYOB: Build Your Own Browser ] ]

Camino is a Mozilla-based Gecko browser for the Mac OS X platform, and uses Mac's native Cocoa interface like Safari does, instead of Mozilla's XUL which is used in Firefox. It was initially developed by Dave Hyatt, until he was hired by Apple to develop Safari.

Mobile devices

Opera Mini is a popular web browser on mobile devices such as most J2ME Java enabled internet connected phones and smartphones because of its small footprint. Opera Mobile for smartphones main competition is from Netfront. Sony developed a mobile browser for their PSP, using Netfront's codebase. Sony's Playstation 3 also includes a web browser. PC Site Viewer, the web browser included on many Japanese cellular phones, is based on Opera. In February, 2006 it was announced that Nintendo "will release an add-on card" with a version of Opera for the Nintendo DS (Nintendo DS Browser). [ [ BBC NEWS | Technology | Nintendo DS looks beyond gamers ] ] . This DS browser has since been criticized for its lack of Flash support and slownessFact|date=July 2008. Opera is also used as a web browser on the Wii console.

Nokia released a webkit-based browser in 2005 [source: [] ] , which comes with every Symbian S60 platform-based smartphone.

Windows Mobile comes with Internet Explorer Mobile by default and competes with Opera Mobile, Netfront and Mozilla's Minimo.

Safari, Apple's browser based on WebKit/KHTML, comes with iPhone and iPod Touch.


* DOJ/Antitrust: U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division. [ Civil Action No. 98-1232 (Antitrust) Complaint, United States of America v. Microsoft Corporation] . May 18, 1998. Press release: [ Justice Department Files Antitrust Suit Against Microsoft for Unlawfully Monopolizing Computer Software Markets]


ee also

*Usage share of web browsers
*Comparison of web browsers

External links

* [ Browser Statistics] – Month by month comparison spanning from 2002 and onward displaying the usage share of browsers among web developers.
* [ Browser Stats] – Chuck Upsdell's Browser Statistics
* [ Browser Stats] – Net Applications' Browser Statistics
* [ Browser Wars II: The Saga Continues] – an article about the development of the browser wars
* [ Browser Wars 2] - An article about the second browser war
* [ Memoirs From the Browser Wars] – an article about the history of browser wars
* [ Thomas Haigh, "Protocols for Profit: Web and Email Technologies as Product and Infrastructure" in The Internet & American Business, eds. Ceruzzi & Aspray, MIT Press, 2008] - business & technological history of web browsers, online preprint

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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