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
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
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
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: http://www.mozilla.com/
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Originally published 12 August 2007