Assessing The Browser Wars, And Why They Matter

Mar 23, 2011

Over the past week, Mozilla, Microsoft and Google launched the latest versions of their browsers.

Google's Chrome 11 Beta, released today, boasts the ability to turn speech into text; Mozilla's Firefox 4, released yesterday, boasts a speedier experience and more abilities to organize your online activities; and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9, released March 14, touts its speed and beauty.

An analyst talking to the San Jose Mercury News says this week marks a "resurgence of the browser wars." From a purely business perspective, the horse-race is fascinating. This week, Microsoft and Google, both technology behemoths, are pitted against the small non-profit, and once Google benefactor Mozilla.

PC World reports that in its first day, Micorsoft's IE 9 was downloaded 2.35 million times. About 24 hours out, Mozilla's Firefox 4 was downloaded almost 6 million times.

Nicholas Jackson, at The Atlantic, gives us the mile-high perspective of the competition:

Ever since early 2003, when it held 88 percent of the market, according to w3schools, which maintains a running log of browser statistics month by month, Internet Explorer has been losing customers. Last month, it held only 26.5 percent of the market. Mozilla's Firefox, which didn't debut until 2005, rapidly stole users from Internet Explorer, peaking in mid-2009 at 48 percent. Now Firefox controls about 42 percent of the market. But both browsers have lost customers to Google's Chrome and Safari.

But why does any of this matter? Why would companies put in so much development money into products they give away for free?

The San Mercury News does a stellar job at putting it in easy terms:

Browsers are strategically critical to companies such as Microsoft and Google, because the browsers provide an easy path to their other online products. And as more aspects of people's lives migrate online, from bank accounts to health records to social networks of friends and family, browser performance and security are increasingly important to users. Browsers are also the means by which digital advertising — the Internet's monetary fuel — is delivered. They allow ad networks to track users, by embedding small pieces of software called "cookies."

IE9 and Firefox 4 represent "a huge renaissance for browsers in general," said Al Hilwa, an analyst with the research firm IDC. "They are the gateway to the Internet, and the gateway to monetizing the Internet today."

So which one should you use? The truth is that's a complex question with a lot of personal taste to take into account, but the site Life Hacker did put all of these browsers through a series of speed tests, perhaps one of the only quantifiable comparisons one can make.

How did they fare? Opera, which was released at the end of last year and bills itself as the underdog in the browser wars, was the fastest overall, followed by Chrome 10, Chrome 11, Firefox 4 and finally Internet Explorer 9. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit