Browser Wars

Posted: December 22, 2008 in Informative
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…
No wait!! That’s another set of wars that we are talking about here, one that does not involve lightsabers and droids. According to Wikipedia, the term “Browser Wars” refers to the competition for dominance in the Web browser marketplace. So far, there has been two major browser wars:

Browser War I (late 1990s)

Main opponents: Netscape Navigator (aka Netscape Communicator) and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)

Highlights:
In order to compete, the two browsers kept on adding features to one-up each other. Each browser had its own implementation of JavaScript (which were not compatible). Each browser had its own set of supported non-standard HTML tags. Adding new features had higher priority over fixing bugs, which resulted in both browsers being somewhat unstable.

Microsoft delivered the winning blow by integrating Internet explorer with its Windows operating system, which made the browser readily available to every Windows user – a move that was broadly criticized.

Effect on the Web experience:
BW-I was a time of Web chaos: shaky Web-standards compliance, frequent browser crashes, and many security holes. It was hard to design Web-sites that could behave similarly on both browsers, and thus it was common for Web designers to display ‘best viewed in Netscape‘ or ‘best viewed in Internet Explorer‘ logos. Some Web-sites even went as far as to work only on one browser or the other. This was indicative of the divergence between the “standards” supported by the browsers and signified which browser was used for testing the pages.


Browser War II (2003 – present)

After Netscape was defeated, they open-sourced their browser code, which led to the formation of the Mozilla Foundation — a community-driven project to create a successor to Netscape. After several years, the new browser “Firefox” was born (version 1.0 was released on 9 November 2004). Since then it has continued to gain an increasing share of the browser market, and became the main competitor against Internet Explorer.

Other contenders joined the war at different points in time, including (but not limited to) Opera, Safari, and the most recent contender, Google Chrome.

BW-II differs from BW-I in a major aspect: The contenders try as much as they can to work under the umbrella of the Web-standards. All browsers have compatible JavaScript engines (except for minor differences), and support more-or-less the same set of widely-recognized HTML (or XHTML) tags. Whenever a new feature is added to a browser, it soon becomes an expected feature in all the others (e.g. tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, phishing filters, etc.). The contenders compete mainly in the following areas:

  • Browser speed (the time it takes to load pages)
  • Resource usage (amount of Memory and CPU needed)
  • Stability
  • Security (vulnerability to malicious code, holes that can be exploited, etc.)

Until the moment of writing this post, Internet Explorer still has the major market share, but the other browsers (particularly Firefox) are more popular particularly within the IT industry professionals because of serious security flaws in IE, in addition to some of the unique features provided by the other browsers (e.g. Firefox’s support of custom extensions, and the multitude of such extensions available online, which makes it possible to personalize the browser to each user’s needs). Also, IE seems to be falling behind in terms of browser speed. In a recent browser benchmark comparison done by gHacks.net, IE proved to be the worst among all tested browsers.

Effect on the Web experience:

Unlike BW-I, the current browser war is proving to be in the best interest of the user. The competition is bringing out the best of all competitors, and providing more and more features that help enrich the Web experience. The majority of Web sites today behave exactly the same on all Web browsers, and it is considered a design-flaw if a Web site does not work correctly on a certain browser. Tools are available to encourage (and sometimes enforce) using only the recognized Web-standards when designing a Web site. These standards have been vastly extended since the first browser war, and supporting non-standard elements is no longer an issue.

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Comments
  1. Brad says:

    Interesting post. IE is still a bit behind in W3C standards, and I’ve found that it displays some designs I’ve made differently to Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.

    The first browser war was just messy (2 contenders in 1 market is not good), but the broad number of players now is benefiting, as you said, the user. Go Chrome! 😀

  2. Amr El-Helw says:

    Yes, I suppose there are still some non-compliance issues (which, I admit, makes the lives of Web designers much harder), but I personally think it’s fast diminishing. I mean, look how far we’ve come!!

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