Web browser history part 2: The browser wars

See also: Web browser history part 1: The evolution of the browser

88x31 buttons promoting Internet Explorer and Netscape
88×31 buttons of Web 1.0 promoting Internet Explorer and Netscape. These were commonly found on both personal and professional web pages at the time.

In its prime, the Mosaic browser was instrumental in bringing the web to the average person. As its architecture carried over to the foundations of future software, developers found ways to improve its features. This was done not only through creation of their own browsers, but also in finding ways to knock out any other competition. This ushered in the first of few eras of “browser wars”: A competition among developers to have the most popular browser.

The first Browser War: Internet Explorer vs. Netscape

The growth of Mosaic was seen as opportunity for Microsoft and Netscape. Developers from Mosaic had worked with Netscape during the creation of Netscape Navigator. Around the same time, Microsoft developers tinkered with a licensed source code from Mosaic to develop Internet Explorer. Netscape Navigator was released in December 1994, while Internet Explorer 1 was released in August 1995.

Screenshot of Internet Explorer 1
Screenshot of Internet Explorer 1 (photo from Gizmodo)

After their releases, both Netscape and Internet Explorer quickly became popular, seeing rapid development and growth. Internet Explorer saw increased popularity starting with the release of Internet Explorer 2, which was included for free with Microsoft Plus! For Windows 95 software. The bundling introduced the concept of releasing web browsing software for free, which at the time was never-before done outside of WorldWideWeb/Nexus. As a result of the bundling, top sales of the Windows 95 operating system also contributed to Internet Explorer’s high usage. The release of Internet Explorer 4 began the tradition of Internet Explorer coming bundled with all future Windows releases. In the beginning, Netscape was the more popular browser until Internet Explorer’s usage boosted in 1998, then dominated in 1999.

Screenshot of Netscape Navigator 4.04 (Photo from The Andrew Turnbull Mozilla Network)

Internet Explorer eventually ended up coming out on top in the competition, mostly due to Microsoft having better resources than Netscape — While Netscape originally had 80% of marketshare before the release of Internet Explorer, Microsoft was able to turn that in their favour by already having the funds to promote their product. Windows operating systems in general had 90% of the desktop operating system market in the ‘90s, therefore increasing the use of Internet Explorer due to bundling the software and the average customer either not caring about or not being aware of other options. Microsoft also made a deal with Apple in 1997 which stated Internet Explorer for Mac software was to be made the default browser on every Apple computer from 1998 to 2003.

Internet Explorer saw its peak in 2002 at 96% market share against Netscape and any other available browsers at the time.

The 2000s and the second Browser War: Internet Explorer vs. Firefox

Firefox and Internet Explorer logos side by side

With Netscape on its way out, Internet Explorer was ruling the web browser market. During this time, the Mozilla Foundation was created out of a desire to create a successor to Netscape. The result of this was the release of Mozilla Firefox in 2004.

Internet Explorer’s market share began falling after 2002, due to a mixture of users switching over to Firefox, and the end of the agreement with Apple. After the deal had ended, Apple’s Safari browser was created, giving Mac users a more fitting option to match their OS. The 2000s also saw a small rise in popularity of the Opera browser due to its performance and features.

When it came to Internet Explorer vs. Firefox, Internet Explorer remained the more popular browser, mostly due to familiarity for users. However, between 2005 and 2008, Internet Explorer began falling in popularity while Firefox’s was increasing. December 2008 and January 2009 saw the two browsers falling on par, with Internet Explorer staying more popular by nearly 2% more (46%) than Firefox in December 2008, then being less popular in January 2009 by 1% less (44.8%) than Firefox.

During this time, Google released their Chrome browser in September 2008, and little did its competition know that it would take over the web.

Chrome conquers

When Google Chrome was released in September 2008, it had already accounted for 3.1% of browser share at the end of its first month. This was more than other existing small-use browsers Safari an Opera, who had 2.7%, and 2.0%, respectively. The browser continued to grow in browser share every month to follow.Google Chrome logo

By April 2011, Chrome had surpassed Internet Explorer, which had 24.3% of browser share. Chrome had 25.6% by that time. Firefox was also on the decline by that point at 44.4%. More users from both Internet Explorer and Firefox had begun switching over to Chrome. By March 2010, Chrome had 37.3% of browser share, surpassing Firefox, which had fallen to 36.3%. By March 2013, Chrome was used by 50% of internet users.

As of March 2016, Chrome’s browser share is 69.9%. The last time a browser made up 69.9% browser share was Internet Explorer in September 2005 at 75.5% before dropping to 68.9% the following November. The difference between the two at this percentage is that Internet Explorer was declining at that point, while Google Chrome is currently on the rise.

Much of Chrome’s growth has to do with how it compared to other browsers at the time of its release — Chrome could do what the rest couldn’t. Though Firefox and even Internet Explorer have caught up in abilities, Chrome’s features that appealed to more users were amped up security, minimalistic design, multiple users, built in Flash and PDF support, and extensions.

The state of the competition

With Chrome dominating the current market, it’s a struggle for other browsers to stay relevant. As part of Microsoft’s effort to bring IE back to the mainstream, they have released the Microsoft Edge browser as a successor to IE. While Edge has a long way to go to meet modern standards, it has been praised thus far as being on its way to become something better.

For other browsers in March 2016, 17.8% of users browse with Firefox, while 6.1% use Internet Explorer. Safari and Opera remain consistent in small usage throughout the Chrome era. Both browsers have never reached 5% or more of browser share during their entire existence.

Which browser do you use and why do you believe it’s superior? Share your story in the comments.

Have a suggestion for a future post? Have a net memory of your own that you’d like to share? Send an e-mail to thenetstorian@gmail.com.

Author: The Netstorian

Internet culture enthusiast and creator of The Netstorian.

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