On May 18, 1998, The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Microsoft on the grounds that it had breached antitrust laws by bundling Internet Explorer as a default web browser with its Windows operating system.
In essence, The DOJ was saying that Microsoft, with a commanding lead in the PC operating system market, could not use its ubiquitous presence in every home to crowd out competing software that was difficult to obtain. This was in the days before high speed connections. The main competitive browser was Netscape Navigator, an open license browser that eventually morphed into Firefox. Because dial-up connections were so slow, Netscape was difficult to download and had to be bought in stores. Internet Explorer’s pre-installation on Windows made it so much easier to obtain, crowding out the chance for Netscape to gain a competitive foothold.
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There were a number of controversies over the case. The main being that browsers, even Netscapes, were free. So how could this be considered ‘anti-competitive’? The antitrust law breached was from 1890, and was clearly inadequate.
Secondly, Microsoft’s only real crime was in being ubiquitous, which it had achieved by being the best product available (not really; Windows wasn’t necessarily superior to Linux, or Apple’s Mac OS, it was just more accessible to the largest number of people and businesses). The Browser Wars may have been a smokescreen for the US government to otherwise slow down Microsoft’s ascent by any means possible. Microsoft arguably wasn’t intending on crowding out Netscape; it was providing a browser because the market demanded an inbuilt browser as part of their operating system. Nevertheless, the case moved on to suspicion that Microsoft was altering its code to be unfriendly towards competing browsers, a much more solid case, even if the evidence was sketchy.
The final settlement required Microsoft to share vital source code to competitive developers, so they could ensure their browsers would work effectively on Windows. But the damage was already done in a number of ways – IE was so solidly embedded in people’s minds as THE internet browser, to the extent that many exasperated teenagers renamed the blue ‘E’ symbol to “THE INTERNET” to assist their befuddled parents.
Meanwhile, most IT savvy people opted for Mozilla Firefox, a free browser that seeks to be lightweight and intuitive where IE fails to be. Apart from innovations like tabbed browsing, Firefox has long been considered more secure than IE, which wags will refer to as “Internet Exploiter”. Hackers have relied on IE’s market share, and use by non-tech savvy people, as a target for easy scams and viruses that other browsers can otherwise defend against.
Despite Firefox’ overall superiority to IE, many users were simply too set in their way and unfamiliar with the brand to bother changing. Firefox hovered around 10% of browser share.
Google, on the other hand, was quickly becoming as reliable a brand as Microsoft. Google released its ultra lightweight, simple to use Chrome browser in 2008. In time, Chrome has become the competition for browser traffic, while IE has slowly eroded.
Chrome this week surpassed IE for worldwide browser traffic, according to data published by analysis firm Global Stats Counter. Chrome has darted past IE before for a few hours at a time; this week represents the first time it has sustained the top spot for more than a week. Chrome accounts for 31.88% of web traffic, while IE accounts for 31.74%. Firefox accounts for 25.86%, with Safari (Apple’s bundled browser) and Opera (an independent, open source alternative) bringing up the rear.
Source: Global Stats
How the mighty fell
Chrome’s ascendancy is attributable to a few causes. Over time, even the most curmudgeonly of computer users have become more savvy and less tolerant of IE’s flaws. The rise of ‘netbook’ mini laptops, running Linux instead of Windows, is also a contributor. These computers tend to come with Chrome as a default web browser. The difference is particularly strong in the developing world, where these cheap laptops were far more popular.
Another contributor might be the rise in tablet and mobile computing, where iOS and Android dominate over Windows Phone.
In the US and Australia, IE still dominates with closer to 40% of market share, and Chrome and Firefox are much closer with 20-25% each. This suggests that in developed economies, there are still plenty of casual internet users who use the stock standard browser available with their (Windows) computer.
The stats provided only concern browser traffic. It can’t calculate the number of people actually using which browser. It’s just as easy to conclude that users of Chrome and Firefox are, overall, bigger users of the internet, and bigger users of bandwidth heavy applications like Youtube and other video streaming services.
How does this concern me?
Switching browsers is one way to speed up or improve your internet experience. If you’re using IE, make sure you’re not using an old build of IE. By now, anything below version 7 has been exploited or otherwise made redundant by advances in technology. But overall, Firefox and Chrome are both ‘smaller’ browsers – they tax your computer’s resources far less, and concentrate on rendering pages quickly. They’re both also quite secure.
Your choice of ISP can also impact your browsing speed. ISPs like TPG, Internode and Optus (1300 137 897) have the resources to mirror some websites here in Australia – meaning that you will be accessing a local server for many popular sites, rather than trying to grab the information from an overseas server. This might not seem important when data moves ‘at the speed of light’, but your internet connection is never a straight line from one place to another. Often, your connection will be switched dozens of times before reaching its target, so mirroring in effect limits the number of transfers your connection needs to take.
For more information, call us on 1300 106 571.