Browser Battles

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So Microsoft wins a round in the court battle over Internet Explorer's alleged patent infringement, meaning that Gates & Co. can hold off for the moment on forking over some $566 million to the University of California and Eolas Technologies.

At the same time, the beginning of the end of IE may be upon us. Upstart, open-source browser Firefox has made the first appreciable dent in IE's market share since IE clobbered Netscape back in the '90s. As this Wired story shows, IE still has a gigantic 92 percent market share, with the rest split between Firefox (4 percent) and all other browsers (4 percent).

The most amazing stat in the story? The chart (left col, click on second one in "Story Images") that shows the plummeting of Netscape from 80 percent plus dominance in a decade ago to virtually zero today (a function less of MS's supposed monopoly and the inability and unwillingness of Netscape to deliver timely and effective upgrades on its signature program).

I suspect that sort of chart worries MS a lot more than the patent infringement case.

Back in our November 2001 issue, Dave Kopel and Joseph Bast took an eye-opening look at "Anti-Trust's Greatest Hits: The foolish precedents behind the Microsoft case." A grand tour of the major antitrust actions in the 20th century, it hammers home the moral that creative destruction is a harsh mistress.

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  1. I suspect that sort of chart worries MS a lot more than the patent infringement case.

    Have you been living in a cave the past decade, or are you just stupid? MS has no worries, they will simply make all future software and OS releases crash your computer if FF is installed on it. Want to use Windows, Word, or Excel? Better uninstall FF and any other program popular enough to take a nickel out of MS’s pocket.

    Since Netscape has at all times maintained a superior program to IE your assertion that their demise is “a function less of MS’s supposed monopoly and the inability and (sic) unwillingness of Netscape to deliver timely and effective upgrades on its signature program” is just laughable.

  2. the inability and unwillingness of Netscape to deliver timely and effective upgrades on its signature program
    Lack of a profit motive is an obvious reason why Netscape didn’t bother with their “signature program”. I don’t know how the Mozilla Foundation is funded, but when the money runs out you’ll see another browser get swept away in the sands of time.

  3. If they don’t want people to use firefox they should fix all the spyware and adware which opreys on IE.

  4. Since Netscape has at all times maintained a superior program to IE your assertion that their demise is “a function less of MS’s supposed monopoly and the inability and (sic) unwillingness of Netscape to deliver timely and effective upgrades on its signature program” is just laughable.

    Remember Netscape 4? Junk. Junk that was easily bested by IE. As a Linux geek, I was stuck with it, but it’s a period of history I’d like to forget. IE won in the late 90s because 1) it was better and 2) anyone who bought a new computer got it.

    But as bad as Netscape 4 was, IE on Windows today is worse — NS4 was crap software but IE6 is dangerous. The fact that *anyone* still uses IE is a testament to the power Microsoft has over what software people use. The minimal 8% dent in IE’s browser share is perfect evidence that the desktop computer market is anything but free.

  5. Ehhh, Netscape sure did stagnate from about 1998.. and the revamp that eventually turned into today’s Mozilla and Firefox was horribly mismanaged for its first two or three years. The company’s mistake IMO is that it put in charge of the project some brilliant programmers who had no idea how to manage a large team-based project. Once they left, the project was reinvigorated almost immediately with concrete roadmaps, milestones, and frequent, mandatory status reports from subordinates. Within months, the organization went from releasing crash-prone “technology previews” missing important basic features to releasing a usable web browser that improved drmatically on a weekly basis.

    Which isn’t to say that the concurrent embedding of IE into the everyday operation of Windows and Office didn’t make it harder to use other browsers over time. It did and still does.

  6. Netscape 4 was all right. IE 4 was better under the hood with all those interesting extensions to HTML, but I thought Netsccape was the better tool for web browsing, email etc. By IE5 that wasn’t the case.

  7. MS has no worries, they will simply make all future software and OS releases crash your computer if FF is installed on it.

    I would think that businesses that trash their customers in this manner would tend to lose those customers?

    Anyway, all MS has to do is throw a few million dollars at IE to make it competitive again. They’re pretty good at that sort of thing. Give it–at a minimum–ad blocking and tabbed browsing, and I’ll switch back.

  8. Anyway, all MS has to do is throw a few million dollars at IE to make it competitive again. They’re pretty good at that sort of thing. Give it–at a minimum–ad blocking and tabbed browsing, and I’ll switch back.

    And all that stuff is coming. There will be a beta of IE7 this summer. Microsoft just had to be shaken awake by Firefox and realize they had let IE stagnate as long as they could get away with.

  9. Since Netscape has at all times maintained a superior program to IE

    Many years ago, NN would frequently crash my Windows computer. On Linux, I would have to frequently remove lock files after it crashed and it probably crashed the whole system occasionally as well. For years I tried to use IE almost exclusively, and that was a welcome change.

    Netscape was technically incompetent. How anyone could look at, for instance, a mock-up of a web page and not think in terms of objects is beyond me. Instead, N thought in terms of text doodads: “maybe if we add a blink tag, or how about some javascript, or a stylesheet” etc. etc. They took Berners-Lee’s hack and transformed it into a megahack.

  10. Warren: MS has no worries, they will simply make all future software and OS releases crash your computer if FF is installed on it.

    I can only hope that they do. With all the Linux distros out there, it’s never been easier to drop Windows like a flaming porcupine (I did it years ago). Firefox is already taking on IE and wining, all it would take is for MS to bump up the we-screw-our-customers factor one more notch for people to start jumping ship in serious numbers.

    Rhywun: Give [IE]–at a minimum–ad blocking and tabbed browsing, and I’ll switch back.

    Missing IE’s superior virus support? Yeah, under Linux, viruses operate on the honor principle: delete some of your files and email the virus to your friends.

    IE will never have a prayer of security while it supports ActiveX.

  11. Since Netscape has at all times maintained a superior program to IE.

    Well, for the first few years, I only ran IE one time on each computer I installed. I used it to download Netscape. Somewhere around IE 4 that no longer seemed necessary. Not only was IE a better browser, it also integrated better with Windows. Before blaming that on scheming by Microsoft, note how well programs like WinZip and Norton Utilities fit in. Later versions of Netscape threw in mail and news readers and web page editors, none of which did anything to improve the browsing. Firefox is a nice return to the core browsing function. I’m using it more and more.

  12. I use Firefox only for Yahoo Mail, My Yahoo, and other things (such as H&R) that I want to find by unique icon on my 40-odd-full taskbar. For everything else I use IE.

    Why?

    Because Firefox runs as only one process. This means that:

    a) its apparent memory leakiness becomes disastrous very rapidly, and

    b) I can only have one session at session-based sites like My Yahoo.

    If someone can tell me how to make a new invocation of Firefox start a new process, I’ll switch to it completely.

  13. With all the Linux distros out there, it’s never been easier to drop Windows like a flaming porcupine

    True, but it’s still not easy enough. I’ve tried Linux once every couple years over the last six or seven years, and it’s definitely getting better. But I always reach a point where I get sick of fiddling and want to get more work done, so I go back to Windows.

    Missing IE’s superior virus support?

    I don’t know – I’ve never once been the victim of a security breach (knock on wood…). Actually, about the only thing I think IE has going for it right now is speed. Firefox can be so slooooooow sometimes.

  14. I switched over to Firefox about 2 months ago, and I absolutely love it. I don’t intend to go back to IE, even at gun-point. I intend to switch my mail from Outlook to Thunderbird (a Firefox sister product) when Thunderbird develops a few more features.

    The threat to Outlook is probably a bigger issue to MS, since they actually charge for that. Once someone goes to a freeware program like Thunderbird, MS loses a paying customer.

    By the way, Firefox (and Thunderbird) support 3rd-party plug-ins. Including a spellchecker for tiny little entry boxes for posting comments to websites. 🙂

  15. I have finally downloaded Firefox. I love the tab feature.

  16. OMG I couldn’t live without tabs. By the way, there’s an IE add-on called “Maxthon” if you don’t want to switch to Firefox. It’s like Firefox with a bunch of plugins already installed (esp. ad-blocking). It’s very good – I use it at work.

    The threat to Outlook is probably a bigger issue to MS, since they actually charge for that. Once someone goes to a freeware program like Thunderbird, MS loses a paying customer.

    Thunderbird is a threat to Outlook *Express*, but MS doesn’t charge for that. Thunderbird doesn’t do appointments, tasks, or other server features.

  17. There’s a calendar plug-in for Thunderbird (or Firefox). It can also function as a stand alone app, called Sunbird. Sunbird is currently at version 0.2, which means it has a long way to go yet, but what it DOES have, I like. you can share calendars using the webcal:// protocol, so you don’t need an Exchange server.

    The Thunderbird/Sunbird combo may be five years away from being able to challenge MS and other closed-source companies for business clients, but home users and small businesses can get a lot of the functionality those big guys have for free, today.

    One of these days, I’m going to try out OpenOffice, and see if I can ditch Excel and Word.

  18. OpenOffice is not bad – I haven’t dug into it too thoroughly though, just beginning to use it on my laptop in place of my expired trial of MS Office…

    That Sunbird sounds pretty cool…

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