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The Browser War Takes No Prinoners

08 Apr 2013 | Posted Under Internet
By Carl Weiss

Those of us who can remember back to the start of the Internet will recall the initial clash of titans as Netscape, one of the web’s first commercially viable web browsers, duked it out with Microsoft.  Even 
Netscape logo 2005–2007, still used in some po...
Netscape logo 2005–2007, still used in some portals (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
though Microsoft was a Johnny-come-lately in the browser game, IE eventually chipped away at Netscape’s dominance, largely due to its virtual monopoly in the PC operating system market.  It also helped that Microsoft gave away IE with virtually every copy of Windows 95 that it sold, whereas Netscape charged for its browser.  This resulted in AOL, who had acquired Netscape in 1998, filing a lawsuit against Microsoft.  While the suit was settled in AOL’s favor in 2004 for $750 million, it was a case of Netscape winning the battle and losing the war, since by then IE was the clear market leader. By 2007, IE owned 77% of the browser market, compared to Firefox with16% and Netscape six tenths of one percent.

However, this overwhelming victory did not lead to a cessation of hostilities.  In the intervening five years, this technological cold war became hot again as a new player entered the fray. While Microsoft rested on its laurels, with a full five years passing between the release of IE 6 and 7, Google Chrome made its presence known in a big way.  Released in December of 2008, Chrome amassed 37% of the worldwide browser market by 2013.  It did this in part due to the fact that it is fast, secure and stable.  It also introduced a lot of features, such as form auto fill, full screen mode and drag and drop tabs.  More importantly Chrome has also been designed to sync between PC’s, smartphones and tablets.

Of course, that didn’t mean that Microsoft was going to take the emergence of a dynamic competitor like 
Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase
Microsoft lying down.  In fact, it was the allure of the emerging mobile computing market that made Microsoft take a leap of faith with the development of Windows 8.  A radical departure from its long line of operating systems, Windows 8 has been seen as so radical a departure from anything that has come before.  In fact, it is so different that Technology Review remarked that,

“Windows 8 is a computer science masterpiece trapped inside a user interface kerfuffle. Microsoft’s new operating system for phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and servers brims with innovative technologies, bold ideas, and visual elegance. The system’s radical new interface, called Modern, is a pleasure to use on phones and tablets. And although that interface fares poorly on today’s larger desktop computer screens, Windows 8 probably won’t damage the company’s standing in corporate America. It might even shore up its eroding presence on residential desktops and laptops by offering a user experience that’s new, fun, and different from anything offered by Apple and Google.”

Of course, not everyone sees Windows 8 in a positive light, including the European Union, which recently fined Microsoft $733 million for denying users in the EU their choice of web browser.  An article in points out that,

“Microsoft used to give its users the opportunity to choose the web browser, when they installed Windows 7 operating system, in line with an agreement reached with the European Union in 2011. According to European Commission, however, between May 2011 and July 2012, over 15 million EU customers were not given that opportunity, owing to what Microsoft classified as a ‘technical glitch’ made by its software engineering team.

Most used web browser in country or dependency...
Most used web browser in country or dependency as of July 2011, according to Statcounter: Blue: Microsoft Internet Explorer Orange: Mozilla Firefox Green: Google Chrome Red: Opera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Glitch or not, Microsoft’s actions and the resulting fine harken back to the original browser war with 
Netscape.  This comes as little surprise to those in the know, since according to statistics from StatCounter, Internet Explorer is still dominant in North America with 39% of the browser market.  However, Google Chrome is the big dog in exotic locales such as Europe, South America and Asia.  And Mozilla’s Firefox is still a contender, with 16% of the US market, 28% of the European market and 18% of markets in Asia, South America and Africa.

Microsoft is also not averse to firing a few shots across the bows of competitors, as Google found out it was pulled into a patent lawsuit that could lead to a ban of Google Maps in Germany.

According to Florian Muller of FOSS Patents, Microsoft’s EP0845124 patent in Europe is for a “computer system for identifying local resources and method therefor” and was issued in 1996. The issue was discussed in a regional court in Munich today and as Mueller notes, it doesn’t look like Google was able to convince the judge “that the patent is highly probable to be invalidated at the end of a parallel nullity proceeding.”

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
Should Microsoft win the injunction, Google would be forced to shut down its mapping service in Germany
 on both PC and mobile networks.  It could also be ordered to stop selling Chrome in Germany unless it blocks German users from accessing Google Maps.

While the outcome of the latest iteration of the browser wars is anything but certain, the battle for the hearts and minds of the web surfing public is so lucrative that this clash of the titans could result in total domination for one of the combatants.  Or, it could leave the door open to yet another up and comer who realizes that with the superpowers engaged in a take-no-prisoners brand of all out warfare, this is the perfect time to stage a palace coup.

Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group and owner of Jacksonville Video.  You can also hear him live on Blog Talk Radio every Tuesday at 4pm Eastern.

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