Don't Read This W/ Netscape: Google Chrome Now Most Popular Web Browser, MSIE Second, Firefox Third


Via Business Insider comes news that Google Chrome is the most popular browser on teh Intertubes (with a 32.8 percent market share), followed by Microsoft Explorer (31.9 percent) and then Mozilla Firefox (25 percent, and getting suckier every single day, it seems, at least to me).

As it happens, I finally got around to installing Explorer 9 after years of never looking at the World Wide Web through anything other than Chrome (and occasionally Firefox). I was an Explorer stalwart long after the browser had become a pretty buggy piece of junk, though I had consciously demoted it to a distant second place after Chrome debuted for Windows (what was that, back in late 2008?). I'm not sure why I stuck with Explorer as long as I did or why I ditched it so thoroughly, but who knows why people do the things they do, right?

Back in 2001, Reason published a great story (and a godawful cover!) about how most (if not all) federal antitrust actions are misguided at best and totally irrelevant to consumers at worst—even while they can be costly to companies, which ultimately costs consumers money too. Among the "greatest hits" the authors recounted was the government's attack of Standard Oil back when John D. Rockefeller's market behemoth was selling oil more cheaply than it ever had—and was about to get its ass kicked due to a shift from kerosene to gasoline.

It's hard to remember these days that Microsoft got in trouble for "bundling" its web browser with its operating system back when it released Windows 95. But that move—clearly designed with the customer in mind—was seen as a dangerous restraint of trade that was somehow supposed to make it impossible for other browsers to compete (despite the fact that everyone I knew back then simply used Explorer to download Netscape or whatever they wanted and then went on their way). Dave Kopel and Joe Bast reminded us

A group of Microsoft's competitors—Netscape, Oracle, Sun, and MCI—urged government action so that Microsoft would not "gain control of the Internet," arguing that suppressing Microsoft would "ensure the accessibility and affordability of information technology and the Internet." Netscape's Jim Clark offered a similar warning regarding Microsoft's Web browser, Internet Explorer: "If Microsoft owns the browser as well as the operating system, there will be no Yahoo!, no Infoseek, no Excite, just Bill standing at the gate, pointing out where he wants to go. Microsoft will be the one and only 'portal'." Sun's Scott McNealy fretted: "How are you going to compete if Microsoft won't put you on the Microsoft Shopping Center—which will be the opening screen of everyone's computer?"

What indeed? And who the hell is MCI again? In late 2001, after about three years of trialing, the antitrust case was settled in a pretty grand anticlimax. The settlement allowed Microsoft to keep Explorer on the boot-up screen most users saw. Depending on what sort of Wintel (nostalgia!) machine you bought, you might also have seen a bunch of other preloaded crap that you could fire up or ignore, or even delete.

So here we are, a decade on from the big Microsoft settlement. Does anyone think that the antitrust settlement is the reason why Explorer faded from prominence? Or explains why Netscape is a dim (but happy!) memory to most webheads? Or is that creative destruction that we hear about so much more responsible?

Hat tip on Chrome story: Cathy Reisenwitz