Future cloudy for browsers and software


POSTED: Monday, February 23, 2009

In the browser world, a host of competitors to Microsoft's Internet Explorer—most notably Mozilla's Firefox—have been steadily gaining market share.

While this may seem a simple case of a single product losing favor, the implications are far greater.

Many feel that the winner of this battle will, in fact, control the future Internet.

First, let's consider the numbers:

Measurements of browser usage vary somewhat, depending upon the statistician, but it's pretty safe to say that Internet Explorer currently holds slightly less than 70 percent of the marketplace. Still an impressive number, but less so when considering that just a few years ago, Internet Explorer was used by well over 90 percent of Web surfers.

Not coincidentally, Mozilla's Firefox browser, born out of the ashes of the old Netscape Navigator, was introduced a few years ago.

Again, while numbers vary, it's safe to say that Firefox has slightly more than 20 percent of the market.

Safari, the defacto standard browser for Macs, has about 8 percent of the market.

Why do we care about such numbers?

Well, the Internet is heading towards a renaissance of sorts, known as cloud computing. Under this model, software is not loaded on your desktop; rather, it is accessed over the Internet, through your Web browser.

Theoretically, the only piece of software you might actually own is the browser.

Obviously, whoever controls the browser will have a tremendous influence upon the software being made available over the Web.

The trend is that Internet Explorer is losing market share, but the battle is far from over.

Back in the mid-'90's, Navigator held more than 90 percent of the browser market. Internet Explorer was the only real competitor, and a poor one at that. So much so that even though Internet Explorer was free and Navigator was not, people still favored Navigator.

At the time, Netscape's product was, by all accounts, a superior product.

What happened? Simply put, Microsoft put their nose to the grindstone and Internet Explorer got better. In just a few years, Internet Explorer took over the mantle as the leading browser.

Many might argue against this, but we believe that consumers ultimately benefited from this competition.

Internet Explorer turned out to be a product superior to what would have been available, had Microsoft not entered the fray.

We expect to see similar benefits now that there are serious competitors to Internet Explorer. In fact, Microsoft's is readying Internet Explorer 8, its newest version.

Early reviews are positive, and indicate a slew of new features. Surely this is in response to its competition.

Ultimately, we believe consumers will benefit most if no single entity controls the browser market.

Competition should encourage new features, functionality, and overall better products.