Browser wars—still going strong?
By user804106 on Jan 27, 2009
The evidence gathered during the investigation leads the Commission to believe that the tying of Internet Explorer with Windows, which makes Internet Explorer available on 90% of the world's PCs, distorts competition on the merits between competing web browsers insofar as it provides Internet Explorer with an artificial distribution advantage which other web browsers are unable to match.
hindering interoperability by not following accepted Web standards.Some, such as CNET's piece called the Commissions action “yesterday’s issue", referring to the fact that the browser wars have been going on for a while. Nothing could be further from the truth. More likely, this is tomorrow's issue. Leaving aside the bundling issue, and instead focusing on the standards issue and the importance of web browsers as such, the outcome of the current browser wars will do much to determine the future of the Internet. It clearly raises the question about how we as users and consumers will be able to access the web to search information, purchase goods or interact with other people. Other media, such as the International Herald Tribune's piece and the Financial Times' piece, were more balanced. However, none of these articles go to the crux of the browser matter: standards compliance.
Browsers are strategically important pieces of technology, which can be used by companies such as Google, Microsoft and Opera to foster the use of their own Internet services and applications. There is, of course, nothing wrong with launching products. To consumers, governments, SMEs and industry overall, however, it is crucial that browsers are not allowed to become purely vendor specific growth engines. Instead, they should ideally enable innovation for the entire ecosystem. There are many reasons why.
Firstly, standards compliant browsers are important to the Internet itself. Browsers are the most important piece of software for navigating the Internet. The Web 2.0 trend means consumers want to be actively making choices with regards to design, display, behavior, and content. One browser, however standards compliant, does not allow enough flexibility—and constrains choice.
Secondly, web browsers are themselves increasingly bundled applications. Web browsers are not just interfaces but increasingly contain applications such as news, chat, email, and search filtering or display options. If standards compliant browsers—in plural—are allowed to blossom, we can avoid that vendor-specific platforms govern Internet content. Some pundits see web browsers as candidates to become actual operating systems. The Economist (see article), for instance, makes the case that Google's Chrome browser was created to accelerate web computing.
Thirdly, vigilance on browsers is timely. The technological and social changes outlined above mean that the situation is radically different from the original browser wars between Microsoft Explorer and Netscape. In December 2008, Internet Explorer had 68 percent market share compared with Firefox's 21 percent and Safari's 8 percent, leaving Chrome, Opera and all the others sharing the remaining 3, according to NetApplications (see their report). Other figures, such as the ones used by the EU, quote even higher market share for the incumbent. We are also in the midst of a third browser war, that between mobile browsers. If the Commission can set the rules for the second browser war, it will also secure a standards compliant pressure on the mobile browser war (which might be the next Internet frontier).
Finally, more efficient, open, standards compliant browsers will enhance the Internet and speed up the move towards a web centric computing platform (sometimes called with the fancy new term cloud computing), as opposed to one centered on the PC and its operating system. Browsers are important. Still.