Ever since the first market share battles between different versions of Mosaic and the later wars between Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, the web browser wars have long been a topic for tech analyst interest. They represent which company has managed to convince web users that its portal is the best way to access the Internet, and the design/functionality elements represented by ascendant and declining browsers are a good indicator of present and future tech trends.
Current State of the Browser Wars
As of December 2011, Internet Explorer has the lead when it comes to market share and is used by about 39% of all Internet users. Google Chrome has just gained second place with 27% of market share, while Mozilla Firefox, previously the most popular “underdog” or alternative web browser is in third place, with about 25%.
These are truly exciting times in the web browser war for a number of reasons:
- The recent surge of interest in mobile browsers allows underdog developers to gain significant market share.
- Within the next 2-3 years, Chrome is slated to overtake Internet Explorer to become the dominant web browser.
- This could demonstrate a shift in focus away from the desktop-based computing model represented by Microsoft and toward a cloud computing model, for which Google, with its state-of-the-art energy-efficient data centers, is far more suited to dominate the market.
Of course, these long-term trends are entirely at the mercy of short-term actions. If Google’s next version of Chrome is riddled with bugs, or if Microsoft produces a killer app in its next release of Internet Explorer, trends could shift in a different direction. It’s important to stay on top of the little things when tracking the browser wars if you want to get the best sense for where they are and where they might go.
Latest Developments: Google Snafu
While Google has steadily been eating up IE’s market share, it has suffered a minor setback in recent weeks thanks, in part, to its own terms of service. Google was discovered by independent sources to be using “black hat” SEO techniques that involved paying blog and website owners to link to a site to download Google Chrome. While Google often uses legitimate backlinking techniques, this internal scandal threatened to diminish the moral superiority Google often garners through its unofficial motto, “don’t be evil.”
To its credit, Google temporarily downgraded Chrome’s PageRank for the next six months, meaning that if people search for “web browser,” other browsers will pop up before Chrome. This has resulted in a slight jump in IE users and a slight drop in the market share of Chrome users. However, analysts do not believe that this will have much of an impact on overall trends. Google’s high-end cloud server technology and its centralized business model, analysts predict, are still the way of the future as businesses and individuals alike try to cut costs.
Another major point in Chrome’s favor is that the latest line of Android phones and tablets have been released with the Chrome internet browser. The buzz on the street is that mobile computing is the latest frontier in the browser wars, with more and more people catching on to the fact that a phone could also be a tool for looking up information on the web.
Chrome use has long been the preference for home users, evidenced by the fact that Chrome is the most commonly used browser on weekends. However, much of the recent gain in Chrome users has to do with the adoption of the Google browser by businesses. Google announced a special run of Chrome for Business in early 2011, and administrators have rapidly embraced it. Of single-issue browsers, Chrome 15 is the most commonly used between Monday through Friday, though between all the Chrome browsers and all the IE browsers, Microsoft’s is still in the lead.
Recent developments suggest that the web browser war is far from over. While we could be approaching a turning point in how we use our browser and what we use it for and what capabilities we value in a browser, the battles are still any company’s to win.