Browser wars wind down

With Netscape's passing, few challengers to IE remain

A LOT can happen in a decade.

Ten years ago, Netscape Communications ruled the Web browser world with Netscape Navigator, which held the lion's share of the browser market and seemed ready to fend off any challengers.

After Microsoft began bundling the Internet Explorer browser with new versions of Windows, Netscape's vociferous objections helped prompt the Justice Department to file suit against Microsoft, alleging, among other things, that bundling its own browser with Windows was a violation of antitrust laws.

Now, early in January 2008, Netscape Navigator has been taken off life support.

America Online ' which had previously acquired the rights to the browser ' has announced that the company will stop supporting the software as of Feb. 1.

That leaves not much in the way of competition.

Depending on which sampling of statistics you choose, Internet Explorer holds 75 percent to 80 percent of the browser market.

The only other browsers that still have more than 1 percent are Mozilla Firefox and Apple's Safari.

Firefox's market share comes in at 13 percent to 17 percent, and Safari brings up the rear with 3 percent to 6 percent.

Internet Explorer's dominance is somewhat less than it was a few years ago, when it controlled approximately 95 percent of the market.

When serious vulnerabilities were reported in Internet Explorer in 2004, many people looked for an alternative. Firefox was the big winner, with its market share rising from about 2 percent in 2004 to its current level.

But how long can that gain last, particularly after the release of more secure versions of Internet Explorer? And with browsers being offered for free, what incentive is there for continued development? Under the circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that Internet Explorer's main competition is Firefox ' an open-source product backed by a nonprofit foundation.

And the Mozilla Foundation has underlined its continuing commitment to browser development with the recent release of beta 2 code for a new Version 3.0 of Firefox.

At the same time, Firefox development seems to be slowing. There are no new killer features in Firefox 3. Instead, most improvements are in speed, reduced memory requirements and stability.

What's more, Mozilla issued what it called road maps outlining future development plans almost on a yearly basis until 2004, but it has issued none since.

Mozilla officials did not respond to our requests for comment.

For Netscape, AOL's decision ends the rise and fall of what had been a revolutionary product.

Netscape led browsers in innovations during the late 1990s, introducing features such as JavaScript and frames. But by the end of the decade, new versions of Navigator were losing their appeal as more users turned to Internet Explorer.

Percentage of users
of each Web browser, rounded the nearest number

Internet Explorer







< 1%



About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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