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Friday, August 25, 2006

Browser Wars

It's a topic that just won't go away. What's the best browser out there? No one can answer that but yourself, you just need to be open. I've given in depth reviews on the major browsers, but unlike many reviews you might read, I not only reported the date, but how usable and stable each product is. Seems to be that the browsers with the least usability have fallen by the wayside (Netscape and AOL browser, notably).Others remain somewhat obscure, such as Avant and Maxthon. These two are both wonderful at what they do, but their market seems limited to those who've used the programs since their heyday. And now we have the Big Two (er, three), Internet Explorer and Firefox, and the competition between them is fierce. I'd be remiss to mention Opera, it fits in the obscure category as well as entering a phase where it can be considered a major player.

Marketing, pure and simple, is the driving force behind the three major players and their success.

Internet Explorer has the obvious advantage. Not only has it been around for years, but it comes pre-installed on almost all personal computers. IE is a seasoned veteran, having won the first Browser War against Netscape in the late 90s. Microsoft doesn't need to rely on any major marketing to keep IE on top simply because it relies on the complacency of the average home users. Not only do people new to the online world accept that IE is the Internet, but people who are resistant to change also continue to use the program. For example, my girlfriend uses it 95% of the time (the other 5% she uses Opera, not by choice but because it's already open). She doesn't mind that IE crashes every half an hour as long as it gets her online. She also uses the search bar on her home page instead of the address bar to access websites, if that indicates anything.

In short, IE is a beast that will never go away, it's dominance tied to the success of Windows and the ill-informed average PC users. There a several ways to improve upon IE, user outcry is first and foremost. Within the last few years users have been switching from IE and Microsoft, ever so late to realize, is only now making steps to improve the program.

Firefox has an amazing marketing strategy, one that could not have even worked five or six years ago. Through the utilization of minimalism (of design, not necessarily code), FF has became a huge force in the browsing market. Knowing that the only way to have a successful browser is to offer a free browser, the FF team went even further. By making their program Open Source, not only would FF be free, but the programmers would be also. Thousands have freely given their time to the project, improving upon it. And some of the biggest names in the industry, such as IBM and Google, have donated large sums of money to the Firefox Foundation, and at times even brought their programmers onto the Firefox team. By word of mouth alone Firefox was huge even before 1.0 was introduced, and the constant release of new builds heightens the excitement of many FF users, whether they contribute or not. Problem is, unless Microsoft packages FF alongside IE in Windows, FF is unlikely to threaten IE's dominance.

Finally there's Opera, maintained by a small Norweigan company. The browser is only now becoming a major player alongside IE and FF. This is mostly due to the fact that up until a year ago Opera wasn't free. There was a free version, but it contained advertisements, which no one wants to be subjected to. Supported by these ads and paying customers, Opera had to remain very innovative if the company was to survive under limited resources. Small, fast, and efficient wasn't going to be enough, though. new features were introduced (M2, the built in mail client, an RSS feed reader, among others). Unfortunately, Opera's market share couldn't get out of 1%. Then, risking it all, Opera went free, relying on revenue generated by ads already seen on websites. The response was mixed, some embracing the browser not that it was free, others having already converted to FF and not wanting to make another switch. Now, with Opera 9 out, even more users are converting. It may never become the top browser for reasons stated above, but along with Firefox has the potential of moving IE closer to irrelevancy. It's growth in the last year and a half alone has been phenomenal.

Three different marketing techniques brought these three browsers to the forefront. IE's dominance through force, Firefox's viral campaign, and Opera's risks to become more visible have all been successful to varying degrees (Opera may not have the resources to launch a full on campaign as of yet). Obviously, out of the three, if you haven't tried Opera or Firefox, isn't it about time?

Technorati Tags:

Opera , Firefox , Internet Explorer , Google , Microsoft


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