Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Another Great Battle in the Browser Wars Looms Ahead

What do James Bond, the Roman Empire and Netscape have in common?

When you defeat someone, you better do it completely, or you’ll surely

regret it later. James Bond’s opponents all make the same fatal mistake.

They assume Bond is dead and are free to carry out their nefarious plot

to take over the world.

Ancient Rome, on the other hand, took matters a bit more seriously. When

its rulers finally defeated Carthage in 146 B.C., their troops burned the

city to the ground, sold the inhabitants into slavery, and sowed the

fields with salt to prevent another city being built on that spot.

Another city was eventually built there, but it was a Roman colony, not a

Roman rival.

Now there are the Browser Wars.

Web War I (WWI) ended in the late ’90s when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer

defeated Netscape and attained world domination with greater than 90

percent market share. But Microsoft failed to deliver a death blow to

Netscape.

Now, less than a decade later, Netscape’s progeny, Firefox, has launched

a foray into Microsoft’s territory, reclaiming some of the captured

territory. Will WWII end up the same way as WWI, or will we be witnessing

the emergence of a New Web Order?

Millions Desert Microsoft’s Camp

Firefox 1.0 is based on the same engine as Netscape Navigator. Released

by The Mozilla Organization on Nov. 9, 2004, more than 25 million people

downloaded the browser within the first 100 days. While this is a

fraction of the number of people using IE, it does pose a threat.

Web analytics firm Web Side Story reported that, by mid-February 2005,

Firefox approached a 6 percent user share in the United States, and IE

fell below 90 percent for the first time in years.

Firefox has experienced even greater success in Europe where, according

to the French firm XiTi, one in five Germans accessing the Internet

recently did so using Firefox.

”Firefox is growing in usage and in selected audiences it has

significant market share,” says Gartner, Inc. research director Ray

Valdes. ”Its overall global market share is still in single digits, but

if you go into some IT departments, you will find 80 percent of the

employees using Firefox.”

The primary driver for people switching to Firefox has been IE’s

continuous security issues. Since it is the world’s most popular browser,

IE also is the most popular target for hackers. In addition, it is linked

into Microsoft’s operating systems and other applications, opening

additional avenues for insecurity.

”There are advantages to integrating the browser into the operating

system, so it is a part of every task rather than a discrete piece of

software,” says Valdes. ”But this also makes it more difficult to

patch, and a security breach can have a ripple effect across the entire

operating system.”

Firefox has several other advantages over IE, as well.

Two of the most notable advantages are tabbed browsing and integrated

search engines, both of which save time and system resources. And users

generally agree they make browsing a more pleasant experience.

In addition, users can select from hundreds of additional add-on

tools to customize the features.

Counterattack

There is nothing like competition to wake someone up, and it didn’t take

long for Microsoft to fire back.

At the RSA security conference in San Francisco, Microsoft Chairman Bill

Gates used part of his Feb. 16 keynote address to announce a new arms

race. Rather than waiting for the next release of Windows — Longhorn —

to come out in 2006, Microsoft will be releasing a new version of IE as a

standalone product.

”We have a dialogue to make sure that we’re understanding exactly what

people would like to have us do in Internet Explorer, and what we’ve

decided to do is a new version of Internet Explorer — this is IE 7. And

it adds a new level of security,” Gates told the large conference

audience. ”We will be able to put this into beta by early in the

summer.”

Gates said the browser’s security improvements would include technologies

to fight phishing and malware. He didn’t, however, go into details.

Since then Microsoft spokespeople have said IE 7 will work with

Windows XP SP2, 64-bit XP and Windows Server 2003 SP1. In addition to

better security, some industry observers have speculated that the browser

will include support for the World Wide Web Consortium’s Cascading Style

Sheets 2 (CSS2) standard, RSS news aggregation, and Portable Network

Graphics (PNG) support and tabbed browsing.

Will these additions be enough to counteract the desertion to Firefox?

If Microsoft delivers on both the features and security improvements, it

has a good chance at reclaiming many of those who have switched,

observers say. At this point, the details, including the release date,

are still too sketchy to make any realistic determination.

But even without releasing IE 7, the company still has several

advantages:

  • IE comes preloaded on Windows machines, whereas a user has to find

    out about and download Firefox;

  • Companies may have other applications, such as an ERP system or

    intranet, which depend on IE features;

  • Since IE has had a greater than 90 percent share for years, many Web

    sites are optimized for that browser, and don’t display properly on

    Firefox, and

  • IE can be centrally managed in an enterprise, while Firefox is

    designed for individual users.

    The advantage scale may tip later this year when Netscape releases an

    enterprise browser based on the same Mozilla engine that Firefox uses.

    However, it will still take a good while for corporate IT departments to

    evaluate all the dependencies and make the switch.

    Until these points are overcome, Valdes says corporate users shouldn’t

    expect Firefox to be their only browser.

    ”When making a decision, you are not choosing between two browsers, but

    whether to add another browser and minimize the use of Internet

    Explorer,” he advises. ”Organizations should revisit their browser

    standardization policies, not with goal of eliminating Internet Explorer,

    but in order to reduce their browser dependencies.”

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