Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Browser Wars - This is Where I Came In

Google's introduction of its new browser "Chrome" is the first serious challenge to Microsoft's Internet Explorer since the end of the Netscape browser wars in, what was it?, 1999. The culmination of those wars was ultimately the break-up and sale of Netscape, the software division going to Sun Microsystems, the Netscape browser and Netscape portal going to AOL and eventually AOL-Time Warner, and the creation of the Mozilla Foundation to shepherd the open source version of the next generation Netscape browser. Of all the outcomes, perhaps only the Mozilla Foundation's Mozilla browser had any staying power, now representing almost 20 percent of the browser market.

Today Internet Explorer has the dominant market position with about 72% share of the desktop browser market. There seems little doubt that Microsoft's bundling of its browser with its operating system resulted in this dominant position. Microsoft was taken to court for monopolistic behavior, but any outcome was moot as to the destiny of the desktop browser. The wheels of justice grind too slow for Internet time. Google's introduction of a new browser will have to take this into account. It seems hard to imagine that Google can gain a market share greater than that of Firefox, the most popular alternative browser today, with almost 20% market share.

That acknowledged, one of the reasons given for Google's development of a browser, to be free of Microsoft control, seems difficult to believe. All browsers are pretty much compatible with one another. They have to be since no one is used to the exclusion of the others, no matter how dominant one of them has become. The Internet really is, pretty much, application independent. So, for Google to go its own way and create any large incompatibility between Chrome and IE would be difficult to imagine. On the other hand, being the proprietor of its own browser does give Google the opportunity to have a large say and stake in discussions around browser standards. Perhaps it hopes to be able to throw its weight around in such venues. But with browsers, as with other software, the de facto reality of the market place can count more than anything else. Here even a 20 percent de facto reality would be hard to move the market. It seems to me that Microsoft has been in the position of setting browser standards since it vanquished Netscape. Google will need all of its mojo if it hopes to get more than Firefox's 20% share and create de facto standards on the desktop.

Internet Browser Market Share:

Microsoft IE: 72.15%
Firefox: 19.73%
Safari: 6.37%
Opera: 0.74%
Netscape: 0.72%
Mozilla: 0.10%

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