Internet Explorer losing market share to new, safer browser
Sept. 26, 2004
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2004, Al Fasoldt
Portions copyright © 2004, The Post-Standard
Turnabout is fair play in Web browsers. Microsoft's Internet Explorer is losing market share to a new Web browser that traces its heritage to one of Microsoft's oldest rivals, Netscape.
The new browser is Firefox, designed by the Mozilla Foundation and available without charge from www.mozilla.org.
Mozilla was the code name of the early Netscape browsers, which pioneered many of the developments that are now standard on all Web browsers. The entire Mozilla effort is being done as a cooperative Open Source project
Microsoft knocked Netscape out of first place in the browser market after it started giving away Internet Explorer with every copy of Windows in 1996, at a time when Netscape's main income came from browser sales. In the years since then, many of Netscape's software engineers joined hundreds of volunteers to create a new browser that would challenge Internet Explorer. The latest result of that effort is Firefox, a lean, fast and safe Web browser that is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
Firefox is already gaining users at Microsoft's expense. One industry source said the share of Firefox users jumped from 11 percent in May to 16.6 percent in September, while Internet Explorer users dropped from 84 percent to about 78 percent. This represents the first time Internet Explorer has ever lost market share, and apparently marks a trend that will continue. In the first three days that the current version of Firefox was available this month, a quarter-million users downloaded the new browser.
Firefox is catching on not only because it is so good -- it's quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best Web browsers ever developed -- but also because Internet Explorer is so bad. Microsoft slipped when it failed to fix the severe security flaws in Internet Explorer over the last three or four years. As a result, Windows is less safe now than ever before. Viruses and spyware are huge problems.
Microsoft also left Internet Explorer without two of the best features of newer browsers -- a popup blocker and a switchable set of tabbed browser windows. Microsoft did add a popup blocker to the latest version of Internet Explorer, which is installed with the huge Windows XP patch, but it still hasn't added tabbed windows.
Firefox has a clean look and an easy-to-follow interface. All versions, whether for Windows, Apple's Macintosh or Linux, look and work the same, making Firefox ideal for anyone who wants to use a safe browser on two different computers -- one at home and another at the office or at school, for example. Most Internet Explorer users I've helped during a switch to Firefox have learned how to use it in a few minutes.
Among the biggest fans of Mozilla's new browser are industry critics and columnists. A reviewer for USA Today recommends Firefox because it is so much safer than Internet Explorer, and a columnist for Forbes calls Firefox "a breath of fresh air."
Walter Mossberg, dean of U.S. computer columnists, wrote in his syndicated Wall Street Journal column that Firefox was a much better choice than Internet Explorer.
"It's not only more secure but also more modern and advanced," Mossberg wrote.
Although some Web sites seem to have been designed strictly for Internet Explorer, Mozilla engineers have worked hard to make Firefox work with as many different sites as possible. Mozilla's experts also offer help to Web designers so they can avoid the traps that keep sites from working properly with non-Internet Explorer browsers.