How the 'Browser Wars' Changed the Landscape of the Internetby@strateh76
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How the 'Browser Wars' Changed the Landscape of the Internet

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For over 10 years, Internet Explorer remained the dominant browser. Then came fierce competition, named browser war. In March 2021, Microsoft stopped supporting the classic version of the Edge browser, the successor to Internet Explorer. The company focused on developing an updated Edge based on the Chromium engine, which confirms Google's total domination.
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Google Chrome confidently dominates the other browsers, taking over 60% of the global market. But that wasn't always the case. For over 10 years, Internet Explorer, which was on almost every computer, remained the dominant browser. Then came fierce competition, often referred to as the ‘browser wars.’

Today, Internet Explorer is alive in memory mainly because of memes - it lost the competition to younger competitors. In early March 2021, Microsoft stopped supporting the classic version of the Edge browser, the successor to Internet Explorer. The company focused on developing an updated Edge based on the Chromium engine, which confirms Google's total domination.

Browsers Wars: Where It All Started

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a junior fellow at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), came up with an idea to simplify information collection at the organization. His idea was to store all documents on a single web service and link them through hyperlinks.

His colleague Robert Cayo came to the aid. In 1990, the enthusiasts created the HTML language, the HTTP protocol, and the URI identifier. On November 12, 1990, Berners-Lee announced the browser's name, WorldWideWeb (later renamed Nexus), and on Christmas Day that year, the browser was released. On December 20, the first website appeared - it explained the WorldWideWeb concept.

Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cayo took about two months to do all the work. The WorldWideWeb displayed only letters and numbers - no pictures or graphics. The set of functions was browsing, updating, and hyperlinking. In 1991, third-party developers were invited to join the project.

Tim Berners-Lee realized that the true potential of his invention would be truly unleashed if everyone could study its structure. He wanted to make the source code freely available, which required convincing the authorities at CERN.

In April 1993, CERN declared WorldWideWeb a free platform. Tim Berners-Lee did not receive a penny for his invention. That day opened up new opportunities for other web developers. In 2003, authors of new browsers took inspiration from Berners-Lee's example and worked without royalties.

Tim Berners-Lee was asked "Do you have had mixed emotions about "cashing in" on the Web?"

His answer was decent: "Not really. It was simply that had the technology been proprietary and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. Making the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can't propose that something be a universal space and simultaneously keep control of it.”

In 1994 he moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C for short), where he remains a director. This international community is dedicated to implementing standards in software.

Tim Berners-Lee was honored at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, a show dedicated to prominent British people, inventions, and products that have influenced the world. He participated in the ceremony in person.

Browser Wars: Little Netscape (Mosaic) And Its Fatal Mistake

After the publication of the source code, many developers were inspired to release their products. Between 1992 and 1993, several browsers appeared: MidasWWWW, MacWWWW, and tkWWWW. One of the first browsers, the text-based Lynx, is still in use today. Apart from the three W's at the end of the name, the newcomers repeated the same problem - they copied WorldWideWeb completely and offered nothing revolutionary. Only ViolaWWW tried to integrate a graphical interface.

Marc Andreessen, a programming student at the University of Illinois at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), was able to get things moving. In 1993, he created the Mosaic browser and gave it away to two million users for free. The new browser offered a simple and straightforward interface and stable operation.

Mosaic also had an important feature that no other browser could boast of: it showed pictures on the same page as the text, while others opened them in a separate window. Mosaic users could customize the document's background, the font for titles, and the text itself.

The main advantage of Mosaic was its cross-platform capability: it ran on all operating systems of the time. So it's not surprising that by the mid-1990s, the browser had an 80% share of users.

Along with James Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Marc Andreessen founded the software company Mosaic Communications. To avoid licensing problems with the NCSA, the company was renamed Netscape Corporation, and the browser was renamed Netscape Navigator. It was based on the source code of Mosaic.

At the age of 24, Marc Andreessen had a fortune of $56 million and was on the cover of Time magazine.

By then, Netscape could already display pages as they loaded and handle e-mail. Improvements also affected interactions with potential users. When the browser's functionality was significantly enriched, James Clark came up with the shareware distribution model. It is a kind of free trial subscription where users are introduced to all the features and then offered to buy. But for non-commercial use, the browser was downloaded for free.

The business was booming, and so were the company's revenues, from $85 million in 1995 to $346 million in 1996. It became clear that you couldn't become a leader on your own without stable funding. Netscape Communications grew to 1,300 employees in two years, and without the money of investor James Clark, all this might not have happened at all.

However, something the founders of Netscape did not take into account. They did not buy the source code of Mosaic from the NCSA. Spyglass bought the rights instead but did not use a single line of code to develop their project Spyglass Mosaic.

The First Browser War: Netscape Vs. Internet Explorer

Bill Gates was skeptical about the future of Internet technology until he saw the resounding success of Netscape. He bought the Mosaic source code from Spyglass for eight million dollars. For Netscape Communications, this meant they would have to compete not with lone enthusiasts but with a company many times its size.

Microsoft hid a trump card until 1995 when it launched Windows 95 Plus. The year before that, a team of six programmers, supervised by Bill Gates, had developed a browser called Internet Explorer (IE). Its first version was pre-installed in the Windows 95 service pack.

Three months later, Microsoft introduced a second IE browser version, which was not much different from the original Mosaic. But IE 2 was free and available to all users, including commercial ones. Microsoft added encoding to the browser, for which users worldwide were incredibly grateful. They were able to view pages in their native language.

With the release of Internet Explorer 3, the situation began to develop in Microsoft's favor. The speed and convenience for which Netscape was famous were the advantages of IE 3 - it supported JavaScript and CSS. Netscape wasn't ready for that: with the simplest CSS elements, the browser froze and refreshed the page. It was objectionable for those with a limited amount of traffic.

In October 1997, IE 3 was replaced by Internet Explorer 4, almost completely integrated into Windows 98. The familiar Windows Explorer was based on the browser, and the OS interface was filled with a semblance of hyperlinks. IE's influence in the market was growing, and more importantly, it began to overtake rival Netscape.

At this point, the fourth version of the browser caught the attention of the U.S. authorities. They didn't like that the browser was built into the Windows OS but could not be removed or installed by any other means. The U.S. government felt it violated antitrust laws and brought charges against the company. The conflict was resolved in 2001: Microsoft agreed to provide IE as third-party software.

Internet Explorer 5, presented in March 1999, stopped reloading the page when it was refreshed. The new technology was called Ajax. And to bring Netscape to death, IE 5 was built into almost all Windows by default, as well as into the Office 2000 suite of applications.

Meanwhile, Netscape Navigator was changing hands, losing its former glory. In 2003, the browser team, bought out in the late '90s by the Internet service provider AOL, was disbanded. But before leaving the battlefield, the developers opened up the source code, as Tim Berners-Lee once did. They hoped that the work of the company's founders would continue.

I also recommend reading my article The Life and Times of Adobe Flash Player Gaming.

Browser Wars: Rising From The Ashes - Firefox

The code formed the basis of the browser from the nonprofit organization Mozilla Foundation. The first stripped-down version of the browser was briefly given the symbolic name Phoenix, but because of problems with trademark registration, it was renamed Firebird and finally Firefox.

Firefox essentially became the successor to Netscape, like the Ottoman Empire became the successor to Byzantium.

Before Mozilla opened Firefox for download in November 2004, developing and testing the browser in narrow circles of programmers took a few years. The public appreciated the software of the first version, and haters of the hegemony of IE and fans of Netscape were enthusiastic about the appearance of a worthy opponent to Microsoft. They even bought an entire page in The New York Times to advertise it.

A year before the release of Mozilla Firefox, Bill Gates' company presented the sixth version of Internet Explorer. It opened up the possibility for developers to create full-featured web applications, but this time the policy of total implementation in the OS played against IE. The new features were not universal and worked only in Explorer and Windows.

Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software noticed the problem of technology incompatibility in time, so they formed the Working Group on Web, Hypertext, Applications, and Technologies (WHATWG). It was engaged in creating new open standards for web development, which were sent to the W3C consortium for approval.

Browser Wars: Opera and Safari

Back in 1994, the Norwegian television company Telenor developed the first version of the Opera browser. First, it was launched for corporate use and then for everyone else. Opera was the first to introduce a prototype of tabs (hotlist) and could have become the third party in a large-scale war between IE and Netscape, but the paid browser was left without attention.

With the third and fourth versions, the shareware model was replaced by banner ads (disabled for a fee), and in 2005, the paid model was abandoned altogether. Opera was the first to add gesture control in version 5.10 and even connected ICQ client, but it wasn't trendy and didn't last long in the browser.

Innovations, exclusive features, and brisk operation at low connections were three of Opera's pillars, thanks to which the browser occupied a small but significant part of the market by 2000.

From version 7 (2003), Opera ran on the new Presto engine and added CSS to its arsenal. It became a true pioneer in the emergence of Internet technology, from the creation of voice control and Unicode support to fit-to-width technology, allowing the page to adapt to the screen size.

The last in the race was Apple and its Safari browser, created in 2003. The company's financial situation had become precarious by 1997, and interim CEO Steve Jobs urgently needed to address the problem. Jobs responded quickly by shutting down Newton, Cyberdog, and other product lines, but his next move seemed unthinkable - a five-year deal with major competitor Microsoft.

Bill Gates agreed to invest $150 million in Apple, and the companies settled all legal disputes. But there was something else. Before the agreement, Macintosh computers were sold only with Netscape Navigator. For the sake of the deal, Microsoft developed Internet Explorer for the Macs, and Apple built it in by default. The Netscape browser was not banned from the computer but was offered as an alternative.

Safari is about exploring the wildlife of Africa, that is, navigating the wilderness. Apple wanted the name to reflect users' discoveries in the browser. But Explorer and Navigator have already been taken over by Microsoft and Netscape.

A feature of Safari was the advanced WebKit engine, whose code was partially discovered after two years. In addition, the developers of Safari did not put bugs on hold and tried to fix them as soon as possible. The second version of the browser was the first to pass WaSP's Acid2 test, which tests browsers for web standards. And Safari was also relatively fast.

The Second Browser War: Internet Explorer Vs. Opera Vs. Safari Vs. Firefox

The second browser war's starting point is 2004: Internet Explorer enjoys frenzied popularity, while smaller browsers are looking for ways to knock the giant off its pedestal and divide its audience. According to statistics, IE had 80% of the market by 2004, Mozilla 12%, Netscape 2.2%, and Opera 1.6%.

Before 2004, Microsoft relaxed and began to make mistakes that young rivals clung to. Internet Explorer 7 came out after five years of lull, although the previous version did not suit web developers already for a long time. They hastily ran to the competition.

Internet Explorer 7 was released in November 2006 and worked only on licensed Windows. However, within a year, the market share of IE grew a little, so a new version was allowed to install on pirate operating systems. But this didn't help. In January 2007, IE started losing users for the first time.

According to Hadi Partovi, the developer of IE 5, the reason for the failure of the latest versions is the wrong approach to development. In the beginning, Microsoft assembled a team that breathed the new browser and saw a clear goal - to break into the market and take first place. When the goal was achieved, the company believed in its strong leadership and moved vital team members to MSN Explorer. Those who remained were adapting previous versions to a particular OS.

From a technical point of view, Internet Explorer has changed from an innovator to a catch-up. The browser was finally detached from the system, added tabs and a separate input field for requests, grouping open pages and viewing thumbnails. Windows users had their own news feed right in the browser (RSS Reader), which could be customized using CSS, including visually.

The truth is that almost all of the above innovations were already in the first Firefox.

A month before IE 7, in October 2006, Firefox 2.0 came out. It added features that Explorer 7 had just introduced. For example, there was a close button on each tab in Firefox and autocorrect words. If the browser suddenly crashes, Firefox could restore a previous session. And several other additions, without which it is impossible to imagine modern browsers. Firefox 2.0 launched an anti-phishing program and was based on the new Gecko 1.8.1 engine.

In 2005, Firefox 1.5 set a record for downloads. By mid-October, the counter showed 100 million downloads. A day after the release of Firefox 2.0, it was downloaded more than two million times. At the same time, Google was probing the market before its debut. In 2006, the Mozilla Foundation received a royalty of $61.5 million for building Google Search into search prompts.

Internet Explorer waged an open war against Opera. It started in 2001 when Opera restricted access to the website, but the restriction was quickly removed after the intervention of the antitrust service. However, the problems with browsing the page content did not disappear, though the website did not offer something unaffordable for Opera.

Microsoft's attempt to annoy Opera took place in 2003. Opera users suddenly found the MSN page distorted - the elements were shifted 30 pixels to the left. Microsoft said it was a glitch in Opera Software, but the Norwegians investigated and found that Gates' company did it on purpose. Microsoft did not admit fault.

A year later, Opera Software sent Microsoft an e-mail and a paper letter complaining that Opera owners were receiving an incomplete JavaScript file in their Hotmail. Because of this, users were unable to clean their spam folders. Microsoft didn't respond or fix the bug.

Despite the obstacles, Opera improved. In 2005, Opera 8 was introduced with a simplified interface - the homepage became a search engine. The next update made the browser completely ad-free. Version 9 had already passed the Acid2 test and was one of the first to support torrent downloads and widgets.

Version 10, released in 2009, was a global revision. In many ways, it made Opera one of the most comfortable browsers. In addition, the Norwegians were the first to open up the browser world to the mobile Internet.

Browser Wars: Chrome Comes Into Play

Internet Explorer slowed down when Firefox was actively gaining, reaching the 20% market mark by the end of 2007. Firefox was prophesied to have a great future, which might have come if not for Google Chrome. It was unveiled in September 2008, though rumors about its development had been floating around for some time.

Before the release of Chrome, it took a full six years to convince CEO Eric Schmidt to create his browser. Chrome ran on open-source Chromium and Safari's proven WebKit engine, making it the fastest browser. It entered the market confidently through advertising on its platforms and was actively gaining share.

No other program had boasted as many localizations as Chrome (43 languages available).

Chrome ran on all versions of Windows starting with XP. In 2009, the company wanted to make Mac and Linux versions available. At the same time, Google didn't stop paying the Mozilla Foundation for having their default search engine applied to Firefox. The contract didn't end until 2014.

Chrome's interface differed from its predecessors in its minimalism. At first, this was not taken very happily, but then the benefits became clear - more space for the website. The browser combined the link input and search bar, automatically determining what was what - the technology was called Omnibox. On top of everything else, Google added support for plugins.

Developers have chosen a new approach to browser architecture: a site or a plugin runs as a separate process in Windows, and if one of the tabs gives an error, the rest will continue its work. Google Chrome soon entered the mobile market, squeezing Opera and synchronized mobile and desktop accounts.

Then there was a dizzying variety of innovative features and internal improvements. Google updated and improved Chrome almost every two months. The browser was updated 69 times in a decade, while it took Microsoft and Firefox more than a year to release their updated versions.

When Google improved plugins to Firefox's level, the company turned its attention to security. That's how the world started talking about the HTTPS protocol. All websites that didn't use it began to be called insecure by Chrome.

Internet Explorer continued to lose popularity. In 2009, the browser began displaying a splash screen for European users to try other browsers, as the European Court of Justice requested, further damaging Microsoft's monopoly. In addition, Safari started running on Windows, overtaking IE and Firefox in terms of speed.

With the launch of high-performance Firefox 3.0, Microsoft's audience for the first time became less than half the market - only 46%. With the update of Firefox 3.5 browser, Mozilla has increased its share to 32%.

In November 2011, Chrome overtook Firefox for the first time and gained 27% of users. And six months later, Internet Explorer had to give way to Chrome.

In July 2012, Chrome had 33% of the market. IE held 32%, and by the end of the year, the difference between the giants increased to 6%. Google spared no money on advertising campaigns and knew how to adapt to the audience's wishes. At that time, Microsoft again resorted to not having the most honest methods of competition. Anticipating defeat, Microsoft Security Essentials added Chrome to its virus database as software that stole credit card data.

Norwegian Opera`s audience wasn't even 2.5%. Despite all the advantages, not all users were willing to pay for the convenience. They left for other platforms, getting tired of cracking every update. Today the browser occupies just over 2% of the market.

Mozilla laid off dozens of employees in 2020 to save money for investments in innovation. The company decided to live within its means and not spend more than it could earn in the near future.

Firefox has defended the honor of Netscape's ancestor with dignity. In the first browser war, Mozilla held back Microsoft's assault on the browser market. In 2010, the company was at arm's length from IE, 32% vs. 46%. Chrome was taking its first steps. Today, according to StatCounter, Firefox is in fourth place in the global market.

Safari is in third place. The Steve Jobs Corporation failed to turn the browser into an industry giant and was left to stop supporting the browser on Windows and concentrate on its products.

Google Chrome is the new Internet Explorer. Today it's used by over 65% of the world's users, with Microsoft Edge being the second most popular browser at 10%. The Apple browser (Safari) is mainly used by people who buy Apple products.

Conclusion: The New Battlefield For Browsers

Columnist Dieter Bohn writes that smartphones will be the new battleground for the third browser war. But each user will have to answer the same question "Which mobile browser will you trust with your personal data?"

In fact, the browser war on mobile devices has been going on since the release of Opera Mobile in 2000 and its simplified version, Opera Mini in 2006. As new versions were released, they added the same features as the computer browser. A few years later, in 2008, Apple introduced a mobile version of Safari and updated it thrice a year.

According to StatCounter, Apple's browser captured 34% of the market in 2009. Opera had 25%, and Nokia and BlackBerry were in third and fourth positions. All of them, except Opera, are tied to their operating systems. The Norwegians really fought for their mobile users.

In October 2015, UC Browser unexpectedly became the world's second most popular mobile browser. The mobile browser, owned by UCWeb of China's Alibaba Group, overtook Safari, whose rating had been plummeting for a year and had passed the 17% mark. Much of that growth was due to new users from India, Indonesia, and China, with the largest populations (not counting the U.S.).

In December 2012, UC Browser opened an office in the U.S. and decided that the icon with the cartoon squirrel would not interest Americans, and it needed to change. As a result, the anime rodent became an abstract figure.

UC Browser's main advantage is cloud-based technology, which compresses traffic by up to 60% to reduce the page load time, and localized content in every country where the company offers the browser. Cooperation with local content providers has improved the browser's usability and increased the number of downloads.

It is easy to explain the popularity of Safari on mobile devices: the browser is by default on the iPhone and Mac. However, relatively recently, Firefox became available on them as well. Chrome has a different fate: Chromium code, used by almost all modern browsers, performs best on Android.

Chrome for phones came out in the summer of 2012 when the PC version was already the most popular browser in the world. People were installing the familiar browser they use on PCs.

Ultimately, I want to thank Tim Berners-Lee - WorldWideWeb's inventor. Without its invention, no one knows how quickly humanity would have started to immerse itself in digital technology and how browsers would have evolved. Elastic Path, Hackernoon, Plerdy, and thousands of other projects might not have been there. Web development would have been different.

Tim Berners-Lee`s invention significantly accelerated the development of mankind.

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