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Timeline of major releases from major browsers

Browser wars is a metaphorical term that refers to competitions for dominance in the web browser marketplace. The term is often used to denote two specific rivalries: the competition that saw Microsoft's Internet Explorer replace Netscape's Navigator as the dominant browser during the late 1990s and the erosion of Internet Explorer's market share since 2003 by a collection of emerging browsers including Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, and Opera.


A rough estimation of usage share as of 2006 by percent of layout engines/web browsers

The World Wide Web is an Internet-based hypertext system invented in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Tim Berners-Lee. Berners-Lee wrote the first web browser WorldWideWeb, later renamed Nexus, and released it for the NeXTstep platform in 1991.

By the end of 1992 other browsers had appeared, many of them based on the libwww library. These included Unix browsers such as Line-mode, ViolaWWW, Erwise and MidasWWW, and MacWWW/Samba for the Mac. This created choice between browsers and hence the first real competition, especially on Unix.

Further browsers were released in 1993, including Cello, Arena, Lynx and Mosaic. The most influential of these was Mosaic, a multiplatform browser developed at NCSA. By October 1994, Mosaic was "well on its way to becoming the world's standard interface", according to Gary Wolfe of Wired.

Several companies licensed Mosaic to create their own commercial browsers, such as Spry Mosaic and Spyglass Mosaic. One of the Mosaic developers, Marc Andreessen, founded Mosaic Communications Corporation and created a new web browser named Mosaic Netscape. To resolve legal issues with NCSA, the company was renamed Netscape Communications Corporation and the browser Netscape Navigator. The Netscape browser improved on Mosaic's usability and reliability and was able to display pages as they loaded. By 1995, helped by the fact that it was free for non-commercial use, the browser dominated the emerging World Wide Web.

Other browsers launched during 1994 included IBM Web Explorer, Navipress, SlipKnot, MacWeb, and IBrowse.

In 1995 Netscape faced new competition from OmniWeb, WebRouser, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 1.0, but continued to dominate the market.

The first browser war

Market share for several browsers between 1996 and 2009

By mid-1995 the World Wide Web had received a great deal of attention in popular culture and the mass media. Netscape Navigator was the most widely used web browser and Microsoft had licensed Mosaic to create Internet Explorer 1.0, which it had released as part of the Microsoft Windows 95 Plus! Pack in August.

Internet Explorer 2.0 was released as a free download three months later. Unlike Netscape Navigator it was available to all Windows users for free, even commercial companies. Further new versions of Netscape Navigator (later bundled with other applications and branded Netscape Communicator) and Internet Explorer were released at a rapid pace over the following few years.

Development was rapid and new features were routinely added, including Netscape's JavaScript (subsequently replicated by Microsoft's as JScript) and proprietary HTML tags such as the Blink and Marquee elements. The introduction of new features often took priority over bug fixes, resulting in unstable browsers, shaky web-standards compliance, frequent crashes and many security holes.

Internet Explorer began to approach feature parity with Netscape with version 3.0 (1996), which offered scripting support and the market's first commercial Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) implementation.

In October 1997 Internet Explorer 4.0 was released. The release party in San Francisco featured a ten-foot-tall letter "e" logo. Netscape employees showing up to work the following morning found the giant logo on their front lawn, with a sign attached that read "From the IE team ... We Love You". The Netscape employees promptly knocked it over and set a giant figure of their Mozilla dinosaur mascot atop it, holding a sign reading "Netscape 72, Microsoft 18" representing the market distribution.

Internet Explorer 4 changed the tides of the browser wars. It was integrated into Microsoft Windows, which IT professionals and industry critics considered technologically disadvantageous and an apparent exploitation of Microsoft's monopoly on the PC platform. Users were discouraged from using competing products because IE was "already there" on their PCs .

During these releases it was common for web designers to display 'best viewed in Netscape' or 'best viewed in Internet Explorer' logos. These images often identified a specific browser version and were commonly linked to a source from which the stated browser could be downloaded. These logos generally recognized the divergence between the standards supported by the browsers and signified which browser was used for testing the pages. In response, supporters of the principle that web sites should be compliant with World Wide Web Consortium standards and hence viewable with any browser started the "Viewable With Any Browser" campaign, which employed its own logo similar to the partisan ones.

Internet Explorer 5 & 6

Microsoft had three strong advantages in the browser wars.

One was resources: Netscape began with about 80% market share and a good deal of public goodwill, but as a relatively small company deriving the great bulk of its income from what was essentially a single product (Navigator and its derivatives), it was financially vulnerable. Netscape's total revenue never exceeded the interest income generated by Microsoft's cash on hand. Microsoft's vast resources allowed IE to remain free as the enormous revenues from Windows were used to fund its development and marketing. Netscape was commercial software for businesses but provided for free for home and education users; Internet Explorer was provided as free for Windows users, cutting off a significant revenue stream.

Another advantage was that Microsoft Windows had over 90% share of the operating system market. IE was bundled with every copy of Windows; therefore Microsoft was able to dominate the market share easily as customers had IE as a default. In this time period, many new computer purchases were first computer purchases for home users or offices, and many of the users had never extensively used a web browser before, so had nothing to compare with and little motivation to consider alternatives; the great set of features they had gained in gaining access to the Internet and the World Wide Web at all made any modest differences in browser features or ergonomics pale in comparison.

The effect of these actions was to "cut off Netscape's air supply" . These actions eventually led to the United States Microsoft antitrust case in 1998 which found that Microsoft had abused its monopoly on operating systems to unfairly dominate the market and eliminate competition. This, together with several bad business decisions on Netscape's part, led to Netscape's defeat by the end of 1998, after which the company was acquired by America Online for USD $4.2 billion. Internet Explorer became the new dominant browser, attaining a peak of about 96% of the web browser usage share during 2002, more than Netscape had at its peak.

The first browser war ended with Internet Explorer having no remaining serious competition for its market share. This also brought an end to the rapid innovation in web browsers; until 2006 there was only one new version of Internet Explorer since version 6.0 had been released in 2001. Internet Explorer 6.0 Service Pack 1 was developed as part of Windows XP SP1, and integrated into Windows Server 2003. Further enhancements were made to Internet Explorer in Windows XP SP2 (released in 2004), including a pop-up blocker and stronger default security settings against the installation of ActiveX controls.


The browser wars encouraged three specific kinds of behavior among their combatants.

  1. Adding new features instead of fixing bugs: A web browser had to have more new features than its competitor, or else it would be considered to be "falling behind." But with limited manpower to put towards development, this often meant that quality assurance suffered and that the software was released with serious bugs.
  2. Adding proprietary features instead of obeying standards: A web browser is expected to follow the standards set down by standards committees (for example, by adhering to the HTML specifications) in order to assure interoperability of the Web for all users. But competition and innovation led to web browsers "extending" the standards with proprietary features (such as the HTML tags <font>, <marquee>, and <blink>) without waiting for committee approval. Sometimes these extensions produced useful features that were adopted by other browsers, such as the XMLHttpRequest technology that resulted in Ajax.
  3. Inadvertently creating security loopholes: In the race to add development features, the line between document and application is crossed, and the Active Content Exploit is born. This is because, whenever applications have been allowed to masquerade as documents (eg. Master Mode, Office macros, etc.) anyone can slip malicious code into what is otherwise a trustworthy format. As a virus scanner can only detect a virus that is old enough to be catalogued (usually more than 48 hours), it cannot protect against a zero day attack. Thus this blurring of the boundary between application and document creates an easy access point that is the basis for delivery of nearly all of today's drive-by downloads and auto-loading malicious code.

Support for web standards was severely weakened. For years, innovation in web development stagnated as developers had to use obsolete and unnecessarily complex techniques to ensure their pages would render properly in Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. Netscape Navigator 4 and IE6 lacked full compliance with several standards, including CSS and the PNG image format.

On February 2, 2008 the last update to Netscape Navigator 9 was released, based on Mozilla Firefox 2. However, it never regained it's market share. Netscape was discontinued on March 1, 2008.

The second browser war

[[Image:Historical browser market share.svg|thumb|250px|Usage share of non-IE web browsers:


Firefox 2.0, shown here was released in October 2006

After the defeat of Netscape by Internet Explorer, Netscape open-sourced their browser code, which led to the formation of the Mozilla Foundation—a primarily community-driven project to create a successor to Netscape. Development continued for several years with little widespread adoption until a stripped-down browser-only version of the full suite was created, featuring new ideas such as tabbed browsing and a separate search bar. The browser-only version was initially named Phoenix, but because of trademark issues that name was changed, first to Firebird, then to Firefox. This browser became the focus of the Mozilla Foundation's development efforts and Mozilla Firefox 1.0 was released on 9 November 2004. Since then it has continued to gain an increasing share of the browser market.

In 2003, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1 would be the last standalone version of its browser. Future enhancements would be dependent on Windows Vista, which would include new tools such as the WPF and XAML to enable developers to build extensive Web applications.

In response, in April 2004, the Mozilla Foundationmarker and Opera Software joined efforts to develop new open technology standards which add more capability while remaining backward-compatible with existing technologies. The result of this collaboration was the WHATWG, a working group devoted to the fast creation of new standard definitions that would be submitted to the W3C for approval.


On 15 February 2005, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 7 would be available for Windows XP SP2 and later versions of Windows by mid-2005. The announcement introduced the new version of the browser as a major upgrade over Internet Explorer 6 SP1.

Opera had been a long-time small player in the browser wars, known for introducing innovative features such as tabbed browsing and mouse gestures, as well as being lightweight but feature-rich. The software, however, was commercial, which hampered its adoption compared to its free rivals until 2005, when the browser became freeware. On 20 June 2006, Opera Software released Opera 9 including an integrated source viewer, a BitTorrent client implementation and widgets. It was the first Windows browser to pass the Acid2 test. Opera Mini, a mobile browser, has significant mobile market share as well as being available on the Nintendo DS and Wii.

On 18 October 2006, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7. It included tabbed browsing, a search bar, a phishing filter, and improved support for Web standards - all features familiar to Opera and Firefox users. Microsoft distributed Internet Explorer 7 to genuine Windows users (WGA) as a high priority update through Windows Update. Typical market share analysis showed only a slow uptake of Internet Explorer 7, and after statistics in September 2007 from showed Mozilla Firefox at 35.4% had taken over from Internet Explorer 6 at 34.9% as the most popular browser with Internet Explorer 7 lagging behind in third place at 20.8%, Microsoft dropped the requirement for WGA and made Internet Explorer 7 available to all Windows users in October 2007.

On 24 October 2006, Mozilla released Mozilla Firefox 2.0. It included the ability to reopen recently closed tabs, a session restore feature to resume work where it had been left after a crash, a phishing filter and a spell-checker for text fields.

In 2003, Apple had begun work on a new browser to replace Internet Explorer for Mac, as Microsoft announced on 13 June 2003 it was discontinuing their browser on the Mac platform. Basing the rendering engine on the open-source KHTML rendering engine from the Konqueror project, Apple created the WebKit project and a browser named Safari, which shipped with Mac OS X v10.3 later that year. On 6 June 2007, Apple released a beta version of Safari 3 for Microsoft Windows.

On 19 December 2007, Microsoft announced that an internal build of Internet Explorer 8 has passed the Acid2 CSS test in "IE8 standards mode" - the last of the major browsers to do so.

On 28 December 2007, Netscape announced that support for its Mozilla-derived Netscape Navigator would be discontinued on 1 February 2008, suggesting its users migrate to Mozilla Firefox.However, on 28 January 2008, Netscape announced that support would be extended to 1 March 2008, and mentioned Flock, alongside Firefox, as an alternative to its users.


Mozilla released Firefox 3.0 on 17 June 2008, with performance improvements, and other new features. Firefox 3.5 followed on 30 June 2009 with further performance improvements, native integration of audio and video, and more privacy features.

Google released the open source Chrome browser for Microsoft Windows on December 11, 2008, using the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari and claiming a faster JavaScript engine called V8. Mac OS X and Linux versions are under development. According to Net Applications, Chrome had gained a 3.6% usage share by October 2009.

On March 19, 2009, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8, which added accelerators, improved privacy protection, and a compatibility mode for pages designed for Internet Explorer 7.

On September 10, 2009, Opera Software released Opera 10, which added Opera Turbo, a page compression system, a redesigned Speed Dial, and other improved features

NetApplications also reported that, as of October 2009, Internet Explorer had a 65% market share, Firefox 24%, Safari 4%, Chrome 4%, Opera 2%, and leaving all the others sharing the remaining 1%.

Other browser competition

Microsoft Windows

Internet Explorer has, as of July 2009, the largest usage share on Windows, with Mozilla Firefox closing in as the second most used web browser.In June, 2007, Applemarker's Safari browser was released for Windows in beta form. In March, 2008, Apple released Safari 3.1 and began including it as a pre-selected update in the Apple Software Update program. Since then, Safari's market share on Windows has tripled and it is currently competing for the third place along with the Opera and Google Chrome web browsers. Google released its own browser, named Google Chrome, on September 2, 2008, borrowing technology both from Apple's Safari and Mozilla's open-source Firefox, among others, that included UI components similar to some of the latest Internet Explorer and Safari versions' components.

Other notable browsers for Windows are SeaMonkey, a replacement for the Mozilla Application Suite and the discontinued Netscape 9. Front ends for the IE shell like Maxthon, Avant Browser and Enigma Browser that added features like tabbed browsing to IE were once popular, but with the advent of Internet Explorer 7, are falling out of use since Internet Explorer 7 now includes tabbed browsing.Orca Browser is also available made by the makers of Avant Browser (Avant Force), but is based on the Gecko Engine (Firefox).

Linux and Unix

The Unix-based Konqueror browser is part of the KDE project and is the primary competitor against Mozilla-based browsers (Firefox, Mozilla/SeaMonkey, Epiphany, Galeon, etc.) for market share on Unix-like systems.Konqueror's KHTML engine is an API for the KDE desktop. Derivative browsers and web-browsing functionality (for example, Amarok has a Wikipedia sidebar that gives information about the current artist) based on KDE use KHTML.

Mac OS X

Safari is Apple's web browser for Mac OS X, and also has the highest usage share on Mac OS X. The web browser is based on WebKit, a derivative of the KHTML engine. Other Mac browsers including iCab (since 4.0), OmniWeb (since 4.5), and Shiira, use the WebKit API, and many other Macintosh programs add web-browsing functionality through WebKit. Mozilla Firefox and Opera Browser also have high usage on Mac OS X.

Camino is a Mozilla-based Gecko browser for the Mac OS X platform, and uses Mac's native Cocoa interface like Safari does, instead of Mozilla's XUL which is used in Firefox. It was initially developed by Dave Hyatt, until he was hired by Apple to develop Safari.

Embedded devices

Opera Mini is a popular web browser on mobile devices such as most J2ME Java enabled internet connected phones and smartphones because of its small footprint. Opera Mobile for smartphones main competition is from Netfront. Sony developed a mobile browser for their PSP, using Netfront's codebase. Sony's Playstation 3 also includes a web browser. PC Site Viewer, the web browser included on many Japanese cellular phones, is based on Opera. In February, 2006 it was announced that Nintendo "will release an add-on card" with a version of Opera for the Nintendo DS (Nintendo DS Browser). This DS browser has since been criticized for its lack of Flash support and slowness. Opera is also used as a web browser on the Wii console.

Nokia released a webkit-based browser in 2005, which comes with every Symbian S60 platform-based smartphone.

Windows Mobile comes with Internet Explorer Mobile by default and competes with Opera Mobile, Netfront, Iris and Mozilla's Minimo.

Safari, Apple's browser based on WebKit/KHTML, comes with iPhone and iPod Touch.

Android, Google's open-source OS for mobile devices, uses a browser based on WebKit.

See also



External links

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