Remember When Microsoft Had a Monopoly on Browsers?

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Firefox, the new freebie browser, continues to gain on Microsoft's Internet Exlporer:

A May 10, 2005 report by web analytics company WebSideStory estimates usage in the United States of Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser to have fallen to 88.9% by April 29, 2005, from 89.9% on February 18, 2005. Microsoft's strongest competitor, Mozilla Firefox, improved its market share from 5.7% to 6.8%.

Whole thing here. Overall, Mozilla-based browsers are pulling 9 percent of the market.

You gotta wonder: Are Microsoft execs dreaming of the plunge that Netscape took only a few years back, when its market share went from 80 percent-plus to effectively 0 percent in just five short years?

If past is prologue, look for Microsoft to really get hammered as a monopoly right at the moment it no longer dominates any market.

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  1. I use Firefox and Thunderbird for on-line stuff, and have just started playing with Open Office. The open-source movement is interesting and exciting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it often produces good, free software.

    Firefox also has a pop-up blocker, which is wonderful for otherwise good sites that asault you with ads. Sites like this one. That feature alone makes the software worth downloading.

  2. Firefox is fantastic. I actually resent having to use IE anymore. Not quite ready to go whole hog with Linux just yet, but soon.

  3. Stretch-I’m seriously considerin the Linux move as well. It’s really just a question of being able to move all my documents over to the new system. Since Open Office will read MS Office docs, I think that problem may have been solved.

  4. What is amazing is not that Firefox has ~8% of the market — it’s that IE still has ~90%. Firefox has been better than IE for *years* now, and I’m not talking about a Coke vs. Pepsi better. I’m talking Coke vs. A-Treat Cola. IE may not have a monopoly, but it no doubt still has a stranglehold.

  5. Netscape went from 90% market share to 50% vs. IE. When they most needed to release a new version to compete with IE5, they didn’t (opting to litigate and complain that MS was monopolizing them by obtaining 50% market share) – and they never recovered.

    While MS discussed not offering an upgrade, they seem to understand that one is needed – in fact, demanded by users who are beginning to feel that Mozilla is a real option for them.

    It is clear that an IE7 version is in the works:
    http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/default.aspx

  6. Ned-And the odds are that it will still suck. We are, after all, talking about Microsoft.

  7. But Mike, I’d say that 90% of that 90% doesn’t even know about Firefox. That takes time to change, but I’ve seen more news about it in the last 3 months than I have in the last 3 years.

    Point blank: Firefox is a LOT better than IE. It’s free. It will work on your machine with no problems.

    It’s only a matter of time before it gains real ground or IE apes it totally.

  8. Given the vast amount of people I see who don’t understand that Explorer is not the Internet, just a tool for viewing it, I’m not surprised at the numbers. I think Firefox will get 10 to 15 percent before MS introduces the next version of IE.

    I’d be cautious about jumping right into linux. That’s the best way to become fustrated and quit. I suggest playing around with Knoppix or putting your flavor of linux on a spare box to learn on.

  9. Yeah, it’s not the use of Linux that concerns me at all, even from the command line. It’s the whole partitioning of the hard drive or wiping it completely that worries me.

  10. Number 6, Stretch,

    OO may say they can read MS Office docs, but the last time I used it, its display was pretty sucky. I wouldn’t trust OO if a Word document had any embedded objects besides simple pictures. GNU/Linux (whatever distro) is not ready for “prime time” for non-programmers who simply want to get their g.d. work done. If you want to use GNU/Linux, make sure FIRST that all the peripherals you connect to machine are recognized. Be VERY wary of hardware that has been “certified” for WinXP or Win98.

    I have found Gnumeric to be a fairly good spreadsheet, in that it does a pretty good job implementing ALL the Excel functions and reading Excel (.xls) files. Just watch out for any embedded Active-X objects, and the formatting may not be quite right.

    Don’t get me wrong, I use GNU/Linux at home for everything except recent games, and various Windows emulators are getting better each year. It’s just that if you don’t want to spend a lot of time tinkering with your computer, GNU/Linux probably isn’t the right system for you, yet.

  11. “What is amazing is not that Firefox has ~8% of the market — it’s that IE still has ~90%.”

    Not that amazing, considering IE is pre-installed on all Windows (and Mac) systems and Firefox has to be sought out and downloaded.

    I use Safari myself.

  12. The browser will soon become mostly obsolete technology.

  13. Not that amazing, considering IE is pre-installed on all Windows (and Mac) systems and Firefox has to be sought out and downloaded.

    And there’s the rub. Microsoft’s domination of the desktop — not a monopoly, but not for lack of trying — has resulted in the dominance of not just an inferior product, but a product (actually several) which has caused the internet to become overrun by spam, identity theft, and fraud. Tragedy of the commons, yadda yadda yadda.

  14. I use Firefox and Thunderbird for on-line stuff, and have just started playing with Open Office.

    I’ve used all of the above SOLELY for well over 5 years now (give or take depending on various release dates). I just got tired of having either broken software or resorting to “other” means of acquiring that which was out of my budget.

    BTW, Gimp might be creeping up on Photoshop as well. Check out GimpShop.

    Once I find a sound editor to rival Acid or Audition, I’ll likely ditch MS altogether. I’ll be able to save money, maximize hardware, and be legal all at once!

  15. Don’t take Microsoft’s monopoly status too lightly. After all, it took *volunteers* to make this effort happen, over the course of many years. No for-profit company* would touch this with a ten foot pole. The teeming millions are still too tech-illiterate to venture beyond the pre-installed browser.

    *Except Opera, which never made big inroads, but succeeded (I think) by being heavily cross-platform, including symbian smartphones. And they still offer an OS/2 version!

  16. Isn’t Firefox essentially opensource netscape?

    As for OpenOffice, I’ve just started using it and I like it okay, but it’s really quite terrible at opening Word docs. I mean, they open, but the format is all off.

  17. What is amazing is not that Firefox has ~8% of the market — it’s that IE still has ~90%.

    What’s amazing is that anyone cares about the market share for free software. How is Mozilla planning on profiting from Firefox?

  18. here’s the thing tho – it’s effectively impossible to remove IE from Windows. My PC at the office, even though FireFox is the default browser, still manages to generate a couple dozen hits a day through MSIE thanks to various bits of malware that our corporate LAN is not strong enough to get rid of (and god forbid I be given admin access so that I could, like, install Spybot or something).

  19. Couple of points about this:

    1) Neal Stephenson pretty much called it with regard to the rise of LINUX-based OS’s and non-IE browsers a few years ago.
    Check out an essay called “In the Beginning was the Command Line”
    http://www.stud.ntnu.no/~shane/dokumentasjon/commandline.html
    It’s long, but well worth reading.

    2)IE sucks. hard. Switching from IE to Firefox was like getting a new pair of eyeballs to see the world with.

    3)Regarding Microsquish Office and various LINUX-based Office applications, I think they’d have much more success if they used PDF as their native file format. It’s nearly ubiquitous, practically bullet-proof, user-friendly, and flexible as all hell. For instance, it’s become the gold standard for print designers, but is also used natively in MacOS for interface elements. With Adobe’s purchase of Macromedia, we can probably look forward to PDF files natively including vector-based animation, interaction, and video within the next couple of years.
    In other words, barring any major screw-ups on the part of Adobe, it’s very likely that PDF will become an uber file format capable of doing many different things, and doing them all well. Microsoft recently revealed plans to make a similar file format called Metro, but if it’s anything like the rest of their products, I expect it will be slipshod, prone to bugginess, and rife with security holes.

  20. Mark Borok writes: “Not that amazing, considering IE is pre-installed on all Windows (and Mac) systems”

    Actually, I think Tiger doesn’t include IE anymore, so people buying Macs with Tiger installed won’t get it.

  21. Microsoft recently revealed plans to make a similar file format called Metro, but if it’s anything like the rest of their products, I expect it will be slipshod, prone to bugginess, and rife with security holes.

    And yet, like the rest of their products, will somehow become widely used. Ugh.

  22. As a web developer, I just want to add:

    Please, for the love of pete, switch to Firefox from IE. If for no other reason, to make Microsoft fix their display issues. It’s incredibly frustrating to design one way and then have to hack it to make it work in the one browser that doesn’t conform to standards. (Or vice-versa, design for IE and then make it work for that other 10%).

  23. *Except Opera, which never made big inroads, but succeeded (I think) by being heavily cross-platform, including symbian smartphones. And they still offer an OS/2 version!

    You forgot its speed and longtime possession of features like tabs (dismissed when it was introduced as “archaic”) and gestural commands.

    Opera rocks.

  24. The teeming millions are still too tech-illiterate to venture beyond the pre-installed browser.

    I’m not so sure about that. When you choose AOL or Earthlink as your Internet service provider, they give you a CD with some variation of Netscape’s browser and tell the technically illiterate customer to install it. And he probably does just that. He follows the instructions.

    Then he discovers that there are many Web pages that won’t run under his Netscape Navigator derived browser. For example, he can’t play several Yahoo games.

    The technically illiterate customer, after seeing message after message saying “This web page requires IE 5.0 or higher” chooses, once again, to follow the instructions and use IE.

    With plain HTML doc’s Firefox is better than IE, but I don’t think the continued popularity of IE is based on the customers’ technical illiteracy. He just wants to browse freely without error messages.

  25. Enh, Opera’s OK – a bit expensive I think. In addition to Firefox, I like Maxthon – which is based on IE but has all the bells and whistles. And frankly, I think a word in Microsoft’s defense is in order after all this bashing – I have used all manner of MS and Linux programs and have not found any significant difference in bugginess. I have never experienced any of the security problems that are constantly bandied about – perhaps because I keep my computer up-to-date. IE sucks because of its lack of features – not because of security problems (if you’re not installing the security updates that MS frequently releases, well – that’s your fault). And be careful what you wish for – spammers and crackers will target whatever’s popular.

  26. Microsoft has abandoned development on Explorer for Mac and Tiger, the new Mac OS release doesn’t come with Explorer prepackaged.

    I am a web developer and implore you to make the switch to Firefox. Next time you visit your less techie friends or parents, install it for them too and watch your free tech support calls drop as fewer viruses and trojans sneak thru.

    Not only will you derive the benefits of a more secure surfing, tabbed browsing and assorted plugins, I will be able to build better web pages for you. They will look better, possibly load faster and allow for a better overall user experience.

    As more people opt for choice, Microsoft is forced to comply with standards rather than coming up with whatever suits them. In the long run, this will benefit most everyone. By the way, if you are wondering why Microsoft worked so hard to defeat Netscape then stopped improving Explorer, Joel can give you the lowdown. If it weren’t for Firefox and the threat it represents, Bill Gates would be happy to see all improvements in the web stall out.

  27. The technically illiterate customer, after seeing message after message saying “This web page requires IE 5.0 or higher” chooses, once again, to follow the instructions and use IE.

    I don’t see these too frequently, but most every time I do, I reach for Firefox’s User Agent Switcher. If it’s not a site I was VERY interested in seeing, I might not even do that; I may just hit Back and go to some other site where they aren’t trying to alienate their customers.

  28. Thanks, IO ERROR,

    I’ll check that out.

  29. Isn’t Firefox essentially opensource netscape?

    No, that was the Mozilla suite. I used Mozilla for a loooooong time, but Firefox is mature enough to use now. Firefox is, if I understand correctly, a browser loosely based off of Netscape’s old code base, but much improved. And I emphasize loosely. It’d be interesting to see how much of Netscape Navigator 4’s code is in the latest versions of Firefox.

    What’s amazing is that anyone cares about the market share for free software. How is Mozilla planning on profiting from Firefox?

    Frankly, who cares? Profit isn’t the be-all and end-all of capitalism. It’s a mechanism to get products and innovation and choice to the consumer, which is, after all, what’s important. I’m not too concerned with whether or not Mozilla turns a profit; I’m concerned with whether or not they put out good products, which they have so far.

  30. some other site where they aren’t trying to alienate their customers.

    No one in business who stays in business tries to alienate their customers.

    Programmer’s make a huge time investment in learning how the tools they use work. A programmer who has learned how to make classy Active-X controls for web pages isn’t going just throw this know-how to the wind easily.

    It takes a solid year in the cubicle to really know how to use any of the Web development environments on the market.

    I am not taking a side on whether or not one technology is better than another. I am just saying that a developer who chooses a path, with substantial commitment, whether it works out for him or not in the marketplace, is presumably innocent of your charge.

  31. Joel can give you the lowdown

    That was a great article, Mark. I am a developer too, and I much, much, MUCH prefer to develop for Windows (using .NET) than for the Web – I’m embarrased at how crappy some of my web projects look & perform when I could be creating much more attractive Windows applications. Oh well, that’s what the company wants.

  32. Rhywun,

    As someone who currently develops non-GUI apps, I would like to know if AJAX development compares favorably with .NET development. Is Mono a reasonable interface for non-Windows platforms? Gmail and Google Maps seem like a really nice applications, but I’m not really one to judge.

    Thanks in advance.

  33. Coach,

    The browser will soon become mostly obsolete technology

    Explain, refer, whadda ya mean?

  34. Shawn Smith,

    I’d never heard of Ajax. It looks promising, if somewhat complex. I’ve always found any sort of web development to be orders of magnitude more complex than client development, and with poorer results. I actually use gmail myself for all my personal needs, but I still think a *client* interface is more attractive and more useful, given that every web application has a different interface that you have to learn from scratch in order to use it. Client applications, on the other hand, have a long history of a standard approach to design that allows people to pick them up and use them with little or no difficulty. As for Mono – it’s just a port of the .NET library to *nix, and it’s still several years behind (no Forms support, for example). Maybe someday it’ll be good for Windows developers who want to port their stuff to Linux, but I suspect by the time that’s possible, Windows will already have Avalon out and someone will be working on porting *that* to Linux, and… you get the idea. I don’t know if web development is possible in Mono.

  35. And yet, like the rest of their products, (Metro) will somehow become widely used. Ugh.

    Around here we call that the “Publisher Factor.” Every idiot who shelled out the money for the full blown version of Microsquish Office has a copy of Publisher- their page design & layout program. Unfortunately, in true Microsquish fashion, both the software and the file format are completely incompatible with any of the tools that a real graphic designer would use. So it actually takes me about five extra steps just to go from a Publisher file to Adobe Illustrator.

    Same goes for the nitwits that try (and fail horribly, every time, without fail) to design their ad in Microsoft word, and then send us the file.

    Programmers have it easy. You don’t have secretaries, managers, and office assistants trying to do your job for you. bleh.

  36. The comments above suggest a conflation of IE and Office which I think is inaccurate.

    I use Firefox exclusively, both at home and at work. When I put together the new website at work, I did all my development and testing with Firefox. I made sure it worked in IE as an afterthought.

    However, I would not consider any other productivity software aside from Office. Office has features that I don’t even know I want until I start using them, and then I can’t imagine how I got by without them.

    All other productivity software has a long, long way to go before it even comes close to MS Office.

    There’s a large leap between ‘I like Firefox’ and ‘I’m going to install Linux, recompile the kernel with all the kewl features I want, build an office application from a source distribution, and never touch MS apps again.’

    That said, Linux will run fine on whatever piece of crap computer you put it on. It’s much smaller than Windows. You can probably get a $200 machine from Best Buy that will run any Linux distribution you like. Novice Linux users should probably start that way, because you’re going to want to leap off a building if you reformat and repartition and then you can’t make Linux work.

    With a $20 KVM switch, you can stick two boxes under your desk, one Linux and one Windows, and swap between them via a simple keystroke.

  37. Programmers have it easy. You don’t have secretaries, managers, and office assistants trying to do your job for you.

    You wanna bet? In my office there are a number of amateurs whom we have always let do their own thing (because we didn’t have a proper IT department until recently), and guess who gets to rescue them when they mess it up?

  38. 3)Regarding Microsquish Office and various LINUX-based Office applications, I think they’d have much more success if they used PDF as their native file format.

    A PFD document is, in general, irreversible. A PDF is rendered on the landscape of a virtual printer, a Postscipt printer specifically. It is practically irreversible. You can grap simple text and graphics from a PDF, but you cannot grab the full context of the objects as they were originally instantiatied nor can you grab the model from which the instantances were inherritted.

    To render your documents in a format that is easily imported or exported, use HTML.

    Enough of the technical stuff.

    With regards to lampooning Microsoft, I think that should be MicrosquAsh (Berkeley Breathed), not MicrosquIsh.

  39. In my office there are a number of amateurs whom we have always let do their own thing (because we didn’t have a proper IT department until recently), and guess who gets to rescue them when they mess it up?

    Ugh. That sucks. Which means you’ve forced me to play my trump card:

    I have to regularly work with realtors. People who are invariably so narcissitic that they insist that their picture be placed in every single ad. Nevermind that they are all sweaty, overweight, middle-aged men or women who no one in their right mind would want to see a picture of. And they generally insist on putting something akin to a 500 word essay into ad space only slightly larger than a biz card. I know, I’m bitching. But I do actually like this work. If I didn’t, I’d do something else.

    A PDF is rendered on the landscape of a virtual printer, a Postscipt printer specifically. It is practically irreversible.

    Point taken. Perhaps I was a bit hasty. 🙂

    With regards to lampooning Microsoft, I think that should be MicrosquAsh (Berkeley Breathed), not MicrosquIsh.

    I thought it was Berkeley Breathed who started the whole MicrosquIsh thing, waaay back in the days of Bloom County. Perhaps my memory is off.

  40. Re: Ajax

    Ajax is a very general term for what used to be called “Dynamic HTML”, plus the ability to query server-side resources without reloading the page. It’s a buzzword (albeit a meaningful one) for a process, not a platform in any but the broadest sense, and not any sort of API.

  41. WTF, is this a Slashdot story? Where did all the nerds come from?

    🙂

  42. Souray,

    If this were a Slashdot story, we would have about 700+ comments, with a significant number of snarky, not-too-funny, half-jokes. And yes, most of us have been here for at least a couple years. After all, we have to maintain the impression in the public that many L/libertarians are a bunch of mostly harmless kooks. 🙂

    Eric the .5b,

    Thanks for the clarification about AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) being a technique, not a platform/API.

  43. MS have a legally-defined monopoly on the office desktop (note that not one entry here has suggested using Mac OS X as a replacement for those sick of Windows but who want Office)…which brings me to their other monopoly, office systems.

    Barriers to entry for those who don’t rule the X86 world are incredibly high.

    And the reason we’re talking about Mozilla making Firefox while not profiting is the fact that it got made and is better, despite the lack of profiting.

  44. The big problem with Internet Explorer is that it is built into the Microsoft Operating System (OS). Before you even start up an Internet Explorer window, most of the program is already running.

    In fact, Internet Explorer is your File manager (explorer), you Help screen, and many other Windows functions.

    Because of this, there are two major problems with Microsoft’s web browser. First, by linking so deeply into the OS, the web browser is very insecure. Many of the security holes in Internet Explorer have been tricks which trigger Help and File Manager functions from web pages. Second, by linking so deeply into the OS, innovation and change is difficult. Any major change to the web browser’s functionality will likely require many changes in to the OS itself.

    As for Firefox, the Mozilla Foundation is funding the development. The foundation is also a web standards and Open Source advocate.

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