The Second Browser War

After Microsoft survived an anti-trust case related to browser competition, and Netscape pretty much died (due Microsoft's behaviour and because it was a poor product), many people considered the browser-wars over. They couldn't be more wrong.

Today Internet Explorer (IE) still reigns supreme in terms of market share, but Mozilla Firefox can be said to reign supreme in terms of functionality. Mozilla is miles in front, with IE largely unchanged in almost five years. But with Internet Explorer releasing IE7 soon, times might be a changing. Here's the deal.

Mozilla Firefox is a free, open-source browser developed by Mozilla along with hundreds of volunteers. First released in November 2004, Firefox's popularity grew rapidly. In the 99 days after its initial release, the browser was downloaded 25 million times. In fact, Firefox is one of the most downloaded open-source programs ever.

Functionality is what led to this smashing success. Firefox includes a pop-up blocker, tabbed browsing, live bookmarks, support for other open standards and an extension device that makes it simple to customise the browser.

While winning applause from reputable media groups such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, Firefox still has a long way to go to match the popularity of Internet Explorer. According to OneStat.com, Firefox's global market share is only 12.93 percent. That being said, over time, the browser has been slowly chipping away at Explorer's market share, which was well over 95 percent until Firefox came along. In Australia, Firefox has a hold on 24.23 percent of the browser market. And with September's pending release of Firefox 2.0, the numbers might just continue to rise.

Some of its new and exciting features are said to include built in spell checking, which makes it easy to check the spelling on blog entries or online forms. Firefox 2.0 will also include a phishing site detector, which checks a website's authenticity again Google's massive list of sites. Other features will include better RSS Feed handling and more advanced tab handling.

But Firefox critics say these advancements are disappointing, especially compared to what Microsoft has up its sleeves with the pending release of Internet Explorer 7.

Internet Explorer (IE) has been the most widely-used web browser since 1999. Its current global market share is 83.05 percent. But the browser has not been upgraded in a long, long time. IE6 was released in October 2001, a few weeks before Windows XP, and since then no changes have been made. What's worse, in May 2006 PC World rated IE6 as the eight worst technology product of all time.

But Microsoft is finally getting back on its browser game and with the release of IE7. Some are saying IE will finally be comparable to Firefox in terms of functionality. With Microsoft initially planning to leave IE unchanged until the release of Vista (which has been put back numerous times), and users getting fed up with pop-ups, security problems and phishing, at very least we should all be very grateful to the Firefox team for getting the large incumbent to pick up their act.

According to Microsoft, the first thing it wanted to do was "make everyday browsing easier, make simple things better." New IE7 features include tabbed browsing, with a feature called "Quick Tabs" that displays a thumbnail of all other opened tabs. This will allow users more easily find, open, close and refresh all open pages.

IE7 will also come with a built-in RSS Feed Reader so that users can read web feeds without having other feed reading software. A security feature called "Protection Mode" protects users in a sense that even if a hacker takes over the IE processes, the hacker is extremely limited as to what he/she can actually do to the users computer. Built in pop-up blockers will also be a security standard, which is likely to frustrate advertisers and media companies, but leave internet users dancing in the streets.

Currently IE7 is available in beta form with the final version expected late in 2006. For our new readers out there, beta means "still being tested" and "not ready for the prime time", but we've been using it in our office for the last couple of months without any noticable problems.

So which browser will you choose? The choice is yours. And remember, it's still the early days of web browsing, with users still needing separate media players and other third party tools to consume content. If one thing is for sure, the competition is heating up leading to ample product innovation.

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