Browser wars

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A rough estimation of usage share of layout engines/web browsers

The "browser wars" are the competition for dominance in the web browser marketplace. The term is most commonly used to refer to the struggle between Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator during the late 1990s, as no other company's web browser attained a significant share of the market. The term is also being used since 2004 to describe the competition between Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, an open source browser which is becoming Microsoft's greatest threat since Netscape folded.

Statistics reference: Usage share of web browsers


Browser Wars I: Mosaic Wars

Template:Expand At the dawn of the graphical world wide web, there were several graphics web browsers. These pushed most of the text-based browsers into specialized niches. However the NCSA Mosaic browser was favoured by the majority of graphical users of the WWW. The initial start of the Internet boom had many commercial companies licensing the Mosaic code to create their own commercial browsers to compete against each other. Many of these browsers incorporated Mosaic into their names, hence the Mosaic Wars. Some the most popular early browsers were Spry Mosaic and Spyglass Mosaic. However, one of the developers of the original Mosaic, Marc Andreesen went on to found a start-up called Mosaic Communications and created Mozilla. Mozilla was released as Netscape, and the company changed its name to Netscape Communications. Netscape was so much better than everyone else's derivative code that it soon dominated the market, helped along by having it free at the time.

Browser Wars II: Netscape Wars

By mid-1995, popular culture had begun to notice the World Wide Web. Netscape Navigator was the de facto standard for web browsing at that time; its competition consisted only of a few browsers such as Mosaic and Lynx which were being developed on university campuses. Microsoft 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 three months later, and by then the race was on.

New versions of Netscape Navigator (later Netscape Communicator) and Internet Explorer were released at a rapid pace over the following few years. Features often took priority over bug fixes, and therefore the browser wars were a time of unstable browsers, shaky Web standards compliance, frequent crashes, security holes, and lots of user headaches. Internet Explorer only began to approach its competition with version 3.0 (1996), which offered scripting support and the market's first commercial Cascading Style Sheets 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 dragon mascot atop it, holding a sign reading "Netscape 72, Microsoft 18" (representing the market distribution). [1] (

Internet Explorer 4 changed the tides of the Browser wars. 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. Installing Internet Explorer 4.0 was considered as a system upgrade that would provide more capabilities such as MP3 playback.

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. Supporters of the notion that web sites should be interoperable with any browser started the "Viewable With Any Browser" campaign.

Microsoft had two strong advantages in the browser wars. One was simply an issue of resources: Netscape began with a nearly 90% 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.

The other, more important, advantage was that Microsoft Windows had a monopoly in the operating system marketplace that could be used to leverage IE to a dominant position. IE was bundled with every copy of Windows; therefore, even though early versions of IE were markedly inferior to Netscape's browser, Microsoft was still able to enlarge its market share. And IE remained free while the enormous revenues from Windows were used to fund its development and marketing, resulting in rapid improvements until it was so similar to Netscape feature-wise that users had no desire to download and install Netscape.

Other Microsoft actions also hurt Netscape, such as:

  • Netscape's business model was to give away its browser but sell server software. Microsoft understood this and attacked Netscape's revenue sources, bundling Microsoft's Internet Information Server web server "free" with server versions of Windows, and offering Microsoft customers workalike clones of Netscape's proxy server, mail server, news server, and other software free or at steep discounts. This didn't have much effect at first, as much of Netscape's revenues came from customers using Sun Microsystems servers, but the gradual result was to make Windows NT more popular as a server for Internet and intranet while cutting off Netscape's income.
  • Microsoft created licensing agreements with computer manufacturers requiring them to provide desktop icons for IE, while penalizing them for shipping Netscape on their computers.
  • Microsoft made it very easy for small and medium ISPs to release branded versions of Internet Explorer, and with few exceptions they did, meaning that users of many ISPs were encouraged to use Internet Explorer and not 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, FrontPage, that tended to create pages that looked better in IE.
  • Microsoft included support for CSS in IE and made IE more tolerant than Netscape for poorly-constructed HTML (such as those generated by some HTML editors). Some web designers found it easier to write their pages for IE only than to fix bad HTML or to support Netscape's LAYER extensions.

The effect of these actions were to "cut off Netscape's air supply," as stated by a Microsoft executive during the United States v. Microsoft case (which resulted in Microsoft being prosecuted for having used its monopoly status to manipulate the market). 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 browser wars ended when Internet Explorer ceased to have any serious competition for its market share. This also brought an end to the rapid innovation in web browsers; there have been no new versions of Internet Explorer since version 6.0, released in 2001 (which itself was little different from version 5.5, as the main purpose of version 6.0 was to bundle it with Windows XP).


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

  1. More features and more bugs: A web browser had to have more new features than its competition, or else it would be considered to be "falling behind." But with a limited supply of manpower to put into development, this often meant that quality assurance suffered and that the software was released with serious bugs.
  2. Adding proprietary features instead of obeying standards: A web browser was supposed to follow the standards set down by standards committees (for example, by adhering to the HTML specifications). But competition and innovation required that web browsers extend the standards with proprietary features (such as by adding '<FONT>' or '<MARQUEE>' tags) without waiting for committee approval. New tags like these only work with the one browser which implemented them, and may render incorrectly with other browsers.

Web standards were weakened as an outcome of a single company's dominance over the browser market. Internet Explorer 6.0 lacks compliance with several standards such as CSS, the PNG image format, and XHTML. This causes web development to stagnate with obsolete and unnecessarily complex techniques (such as the abuse of tables for page layouts, when style sheets would be better). Many web developers also write their web pages to work with Internet Explorer's idiosyncrasies rather than stick to the standards, and this means that many web pages only render properly with Internet Explorer.

In addition, Microsoft implemented several proprietary extensions to web technologies, rendering many web pages incompatible with other browsers and platforms (examples of this are VBScript and ActiveX extensions, as well as Microsoft's own DHTML techniques [which admittedly predate the official DOM standard, but nonetheless are still in use]).

The almost-universal adoption of Internet Explorer has also been a factor in the success of many mass computer attacks by computer worms, which exploit software vulnerabilities to propagate themselves. The more machines exposing a given vulnerability, the more easily a worm will propagate.

Last, but not least, because Internet Explorer includes the word 'Internet' in its name, many inexperienced users are fooled into believing Internet Explorer is the Internet (the version of Internet Explorer bundled with Windows 95 was actually titled The Internet), thus making a browser change difficult to accept. In reality, this is a mistake as the Internet is a network of computer networks. Internet Explorer is just one of many software clients for accessing a particular feature of the Internet (see the World Wide Web).

Browser Wars III: Internet Explorer Wars

Present competition

In 1998, Netscape developers open sourced Communicator, resulting in Mozilla. Mozilla was eventually rewritten from scratch and improved in many ways. In 2002, Mozilla reached version 1.0 and has become popular in the open source community. Many derivative products have been created, including Mozilla's own lightweight multiplatform browser known as Firefox. Mozilla and Mozilla-based browsers have established a growing niche in the browser market.

The Unix-based Konqueror browser is part of the KDE project and competes with Mozilla for marketshare on Unix-like systems. Konqueror's KHTML engine was also used by Apple for its Safari browser, which is now the default browser on the Macintosh; another browser based on the Konqueror/Safari engine (aka Apple's WebKit) is the OmniWeb browser, which has additional features such as its use of miniature renderings (thumbnails) of pages as tabs. It is possible to create a WebKit browser without writing any programming code [2] (; thus, many Macintosh programs are adding web-browsing functionality.

Opera has a small desktop market share, but is a popular web browser on mobile devices such as smartphones.

In the first quarter of 2005, Internet Explorer's usage share dropped to around 85%, primarily due to competition from Mozilla Firefox.


In 2003 Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer version 6.0 SP1 would be the last standalone version of its browser and that future enhancements would be dependent on the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn. Longhorn will include new tools such as Avalon and XAML (a proprietary XML language) which will enable developers to build extensive web applications, which can be roughly compared to Mozilla's cross-platform concept of XUL (XML User-interface Language).

As a response to this, in April 2004 the Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software joined efforts ( to develop new open technology standards which add more capability while remaining backwards-compatible with existing technologies. The result of this collaboration was WHATWG, a working group devoted to the fast creation of new standard definitions which will then be submitted to the W3C for approval.

Some of the technology media and webmasters have suggested that a second browser war is imminent, or even presently arising. Instead of seemingly endless new features, the second wars are presumably going to happen on the fronts of standards compliance (such as CSS, XML, DOM), security and usability. Internet Explorer has repeatedly been the target of a large number of worms and viruses, as well as adware and spyware, prompting some users to switch to alternatives such as Mozilla Firefox and Safari.

More recently Microsoft announced that IE 7 (previously planned for the release of Windows Longhorn) will be available for Windows XP SP2 and later versions of Windows by mid-2005 [3] ( The release may be part of Service Pack 3. The announcement introduces the new version of the browser as a major security enhancement over IE 6 SP2, as security has been the main focus of Microsoft in late months. However, the subject of web standards is avoided in the announcement and other official commentary, pushing much speculation from web developers and other proponents of web standards [4] ( Some argue that this "change of mind" is a move to counter the rapid growth of Mozilla Firefox, thus giving birth to the second browser wars.

Other resources

See also

External links

es:Guerra de navegadores fr:Guerre des navigateurs it:Guerra dei browser tr:Tarayıcı savaşları zh:浏览器大战


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