Today the number of web pages in existence is measured in the billions, but just fifteen years ago that number was only a few hundred, accessed primarily by academics and research institutions. In 1993 a web browser named Mosaic, developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, was released which, for the first time, allowed graphics to be displayed inline with text. The Mosaic browser became Netscape Navigator in 1994, and is credited as a major contributing factor to the internet boom of the 1990s.
By mid 1995 the World Wide Web had caught the imagination of ordinary folks and Netscape was the dominant browser. In that same year Microsoft released its own browser, Internet Explorer 1.0, and thus began the first so-called browser war. Initially over 80% of those browsing the web used Netscape, but Microsoft, able to bundle Internet Explorer into its Windows operating system in over 90% of the world-wide computer market, had an advantage that could not be overcome, and Netscape’s popularity dwindled until 1998, when America Online purchased it for $4.2 billion dollars and incorporated it as the AOL browser.
Recently AOL announced that it would cease development and support of the Netscape browser in February 2008. It suggested that AOL users adopt Mozilla’s Firefox as their browser.
Mozilla began as the project name for the development of the original Netscape Navigator. Shortly before its purchase by AOL in 1998, Netscape formed the Mozilla Organization to develop a suite of internet applications. Eventually AOL’s interest in the Mozilla project waned, so in 2003 the Mozilla Foundation was created as an independent entity.
Mozilla released Firefox 1.0 in 2004 as a free, open source browser which meant that its code could be viewed by all, and anyone could contribute to its development. Firefox has been popular since its initial release and continues to eat into IE’s market share. This is known as the second browser war. Essentially it’s the Child of Netscape vs Microsoft.
How well is Firefox doing in this war? Based primarily on the 12,000 or so hits on Bob Kopolow’s review of Norton’s Ghost in the October 2007 issue of our club’s online newsletter, it looks to me like Firefox has around 24% of the browser market share, whereas IE has around 71%.
Does this mean that IE is the better browser? This is not a fair question. If a Federal court hadn’t secured Microsoft’s right to bundle IE with Windows, then we’d all have to choose and download a browser to use with our new computers. In an open market Firefox’s features might seem very appealing to a majority of folks, and it could be the top dog. Perhaps more folks would discover Opera’s appeal. Who knows? The point is that IE is already on our computers and most folks simply ‘dance with the one what brought ‘em’. As a result, any browser that tries to compete with IE is born to lose if dominance in the market is the goal.
I use Firefox because I believe it to be the better browser, and it has many add-ons that are handy when developing websites. Were I not such a fussy ‘informed’ computer user, I could probably be content with IE.
These ‘browser wars’ are a good thing, keeping developers on their toes, and as a result all browsers continue to evolve with new features and sometimes even improved performance.
— Bill Flanagan, the BBCC website mechanic.