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114. The browser wars revisited

By Andrew D. Wright

For the past nine years Microsoft's Internet Explorer has dominated the marketplace. Odds are eight out of ten of you reading this article on the web are doing it with Internet Explorer, bundled with the Windows operating system.

Today there are more choices for web browsers for Windows users than ever before. Modern web browsers not only have to be able to render web pages and multimedia flawlessly and fast, they also need to be secure from outside attack.

While the first web browser was created in 1987, it was the 1993 Mosaic browser from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that truly got the ball rolling. A year later the head of the Mosaic development team left to set up a company producing a new browser called Netscape Navigator. By 1996 it was used by 86% of the web-surfing public.

Originally dismissive of the potential of the web, Microsoft licensed the Mosaic technology to create its own web browser, Internet Explorer, including it with later versions of Windows 95. The browser wars began, creating a rapid period of development with both browsers adding new features and program stability.

By 1998, with Microsoft's greater resources behind it, Internet Explorer had become the dominant browser. Netscape was all but dead in the water, finally purchased by Internet provider AOL, an ironic development considering that AOL's deal with Microsoft to promote Internet Explorer was one of the factors in Netscape's decline.

With essentially no competition and more than 90% of web users using it, development work on Internet Explorer slowed to a crawl. Microsoft stopped distributing Internet Explorer as a stand-alone download.

Meanwhile, Netscape's source code was made public and the Mozilla Foundation was spun off to create a new web browser. By 2004 the stand-alone browser Mozilla Firefox was released to the public and has been taking back market share ever since.

These days a number of different web browsers are based on Mozilla code including parent browser Netscape, the Mozilla SeaMonkey suite, and offshoot K-Meleon.

The Opera web browser developed by a Norwegian company using its own rendering technology went from commercial product to advertiser-supported to completely free by late 2005. While not gaining a very large market share with Windows users, Opera has found a home in mobile devices.

Microsoft resumed development of Internet Explorer releasing version 7 for Windows XP SP2 and above in 2006.

The newest player on the block is Apple's Safari web browser. The default browser in Macintosh OS X, it is now available to Windows users.

While stability and feature sets dominated the early browser wars, these days security has proven to be a main selling point as vulnerabilities in web browsers are used to take over user machines. Mozilla Firefox has been leading the pack with patches for critical vulnerabilities usually out within a couple of weeks - five new versions issued so far this year.


Browser downloads for Windows (all free):

Mozilla Firefox:

Mozilla SeaMonkey:


Netscape Navigator:


Apple Safari:


The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 12 August 2007


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