Browser war is defined as a competition for dominance in the usage share of web browsers.
You might be familiar with Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, (oh and Internet Explorer); and how these browsers continually fight for popularity and usage.
But let’s spool back a bit to 1995 to what is known as the first browser war.
John Heileman’s first episode in the documentary series, True Story of the Internet, tackles the rise and fall of Netscape and its battle against Microsoft, and it talks about how Microsoft, a company with a near-monopoly over computer operating systems, used its power “to gain a vise-like grip over the entire computer industry”– This is the First Browser War, a war that “started with a vicious power struggle” and ended with an “epic court room battle.”
In my opinion, the documentary highlighted the browser war more as a corporate competition based on Bill Gates’ fear that an upstart company would threaten everything Microsoft has ever achieved, just like how Microsoft’s rise destroyed its competitors, and that fear was slowly becoming a reality in the form of Netscape.
a little back story…
There are two ages of the internet according to Pesce (1995) – before Mosaic and after. Tim Berners-Lee’s Web World Wide Web provided connectivity, and Marc Andreesen’s Mosaic, the world’s first graphical browser which provided a great interface. In twenty-four months, the Internet has gone from being an obscure research network to something that mass media can use and be a part of.
And the surprising thing is Microsoft did not realize the potential of the Internet and the Web and they apparently did not have access to the internet until 1993.
On the other hand, Andreessen and his colleagues were on the way to create Netscape and its browser – Netscape Navigator. Navigator was an instant success and Netscape was becoming the fastest growing software company.
This got Microsoft’s attention and Microsoft offered 1M dollars to have unlimited access to all of Netscape’s software which Netscape founders turned down. Andreessen even said that Netscape would reduce Windows to a “mundane set of poorly debugged device drivers”, whatever that meant.
Andreessen to Windows: Windows is a “mundane set of poorly debugged device drivers”.
I can’t fault Netscape for turning down Microsoft’s offer, a 1M dollar deal for something you know could get you billions more. But Microsoft was an operating-system company, a big one with a lot of cash in its disposal and they could easily create a browser of its own and they did, the Internet Explorer . Not only did they create their own browser but they incorporated it to their operating system, Windows, and set-it up so that Internet Explorer would be the default browser for every PC that used Windows operating system. And they didn’t stop there, Microsoft was dedicated to cutting-off Netscape’s air supply. Navigator may be a better browser than Internet Explorer but Netscape needed Windows as a life-support system for Navigator. So with a few underhanded deals that consisted something along the lines of ‘You can’t use Windows if you download and use Navigator and other browsers’, Microsoft successfully crushed Netscape.
But Microsoft faced a new challenge – the US government. Anti-trust lawyers perceived Microsoft as a high-tech terror and the court ruled Bill Gates guilty of numerous offences including anti-competitive practices that ordered the split-up of Microsoft into two units, one for software and another for its operating system(which never happened but that’s for another blog).
And thus ending the First Browser War, the victor: Internet Explorer.
browser war continued….
Netscape, during its decline, open sourced their browser code and then entrusted it to Mozilla which was dedicated to create Navigator’s successor. In 2009, Mozilla’s Firefox was the most popular browser beating Internet Explorer and this moment was dubbed as “dethroning of Microsoft and its Internet Explorer 7 browser” by some sources.
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has slowly been declining in favor of newer, more innovative browsers such as Google Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Firefox.
And we’re now in a new browser war, one that is hopefully free from anti-competitive practices.