Return of the browser wars

Move over Internet Explorer and Navigator. Today there is a range of new browsers slugging it out.

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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  January 13, 2009

Over a decade ago, a bitter ‘war' was raging on as terms such as ‘web-surfing' began to emerge in the English lexicon. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator were slugging it out for supremacy over the browser share market and this competition resulted in both browsers adopting different standards.

For years, some sites were only Internet Explorer compliant while others were Netscape Navigator compliant.

Today, Netscape Navigator is not being further developed anymore, but there is a whole range of new and interesting browsers out there competing with Microsoft Internet Explorer for market share. This time, however, web-designers, web-developers and browser-developers are attempting to adopt a unified standard with the push towards over-arching web standards.

Whether you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera or Google Chrome; Windows reviews them all and tells you about some lesser known browsers that you might want to consider using such as Flock, Camino and Maxthon.

But before taking a look at them, it's interesting to take a look back in time to see how we arrived at the browser situation we have today.

Browser War I

Believe it or not, in mid-1995, America Online's (AOL's) Netscape Navigator was the dominant and most widely used web browser in the world. Microsoft, at the time, had only just licensed Mosaic as the basis of Internet Explorer 1.0, which was released as part of a Microsoft Windows 95 package in August 1995.

Microsoft Internet Explorer really began to take market dominance as version 2.0 of the browser was released by Microsoft as a free download three months after the August 1995 package release. The Internet Explorer software was available for all Windows users and companies for free.

In October 1997, Internet Explorer 4.0 was released and Internet Explorer 4.0 was integrated into the Windows operating system as well, and Microsoft allowed IE to remain free. At the time, the Netscape browser was free for home and education users but it was commercial software for businesses.

With Microsoft dominating the Operating Software landscape, it was only a matter of time before it would dominate the web browser market as well. The result was that the first browser war ended with Internet Explorer having no remaining serious competition concerning its market share.

Browser War II

After some time, Netscape open-sourced their browser code, which led to the formation of the Mozilla Foundation-a community-driven project to create a successor to Netscape. Development continued for years with little widespread adoption until a stripped-down browser-only version of the full suite was created, featuring new features such as tabbed browsing and a separate search bar.

The browser would eventually become known as Firefox. Mozilla Firefox 1.0 was released on 9 November 2004 and since then it has continued to gain an increasing share of the browser market.

At the end of March 2008 AOL stopped support for Netscape Navigator and, as of 2008, it has been estimated that Internet Explorer had 72% market share compared with Firefox's 20% and Safari's 6%, leaving Opera and all the others sharing the remaining 2%.

How the browsers stack up

So, how does one go about measuring how browsers stack up against one another? One could start with measuring the speed of browsers, but, in today's world, with computer processing speeds increasing rapidly, the differences among browser speeds can be minimal. Here at Windows, we've decided to compare and rate browsers on the following categories: Look (aesthetics), Ease-of-use, Security and Features.

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