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Market Shares

Microsoft hit a high water mark with Internet Explorer in late 2002 when IE 6.0 finally annihilated their former arch rival Netscape to claim a jaw dropping 92% share of the web browser market (a figure that rose only slightly to 95% in late 2004).

But Microsoft soon proved the old truism that monopoly (or near-monopoly) of any market is a recipe for disaster by:

  • Failing to release an updated version of Internet Explorer for a further 3.5 years (IE 7.0 in 2005)
  • Taking up to 9 months after severe security flaws in IE were reported to them to fix them (a figure that's only a bit better now); and by
  • Dropping IE for Mac completely in early 2006 and abandoning the Apple market to its own devices.

However, Netscape's successor Firefox has been steadily reversing IE's lead. And while IE is still the dominant browser by a long way, Firefox continues to win new converts year after year simply by producing a markedly superior product.

Here's the estimated world-wide market share for the top browsers as at 1 July 2008 according to TheCounter.com:

  • Internet Explorer (6x and 7x) - 78.30%
  • Firefox (2x and 3x) - 16.36%
  • Safari - 3.41%
  • Opera - 0.81%
  • Netscape - 0.06%
  • All other browsers - 1.06%

In practical terms - if you're a web developer - what this means is that if you test web pages under both IE and Firefox you'll be verifying your work for almost 95% of the market.

And if you're a user unsatisfied with IE, what this also means is that close to 1/5th of the world has already switched to Firefox, so you'd be quite safe to follow the crowd if you wish (eg: in Australia, Firefox's penetration is now estimated at 22%).

Other Browser Resources

Web Browsers
Background: A web browser is a software application that enables you to view and interact with text, images, videos, music, links and other information located on a web page.

Although prototypes of web browsers were developed as early as 1977, the first true web browser only appeared in September 1993 when NCSA Mosaic was released.

This was quickly followed by Netscape Navigator in October 1994 and then by Microsoft Internet Explorer in 1995.

Web browsers fuelled the growth of the Net by allowing millions of ordinary users to access the web through their PCs. They also sparked a major browser war between Netscape and Microsoft which lasted from 1996 (when Netscape held around 86% of the browser market) until early 2002 when IE held 92% of the market and Netscape's share had declined to around 4%.

However, the browser war reignited in late 2004 with the release of Mozilla Firefox and this renewed war continues today. By July 2008, Firefox had increased its market share to 16.36% and Internet Explorer's share had declined to 78.30%, galvanising Microsoft into taking a renewed interest in browser development.

Web browsers have always been free and these days they're routinely provided with all personal computers (the most common is Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which is bundled with the Windows operating system). Nonetheless, many people choose to install and run more than one browser on their computers for a variety of reasons which are outlined below:

 

Popular Web Browsers
Firefox
Version 1.0 of Mozilla Firefox (now commonly known as Firefox) was released in November 2004 by the Mozilla Corporation. Firefox features include tabbed browsing, a built-in spell checker, live bookmarking, an integrated download manager and an integrated search system that includes Google. In addition, users can customize Firefox with hundreds of extensions and themes.

Firefox also provides an ideal environment for web developers using the browser's built-in tools or plug-in extensions developed especially for web development work. It also supports most major web standards. And although Firefox 2 didn't pass the Acid2 standards compliance test (and neither does Internet Explorer), Firefox 3 Beta 2 does. Firefox 3 was released in June 2008.

Apart from a better surfing experience, though, perhaps the three best reasons for ordinary people to use Firefox are that it's much more secure than Internet Explorer; has far fewer bugs; and - unlike Internet Explorer - doesn't alter its interface radically from one version to the next. A study conducted by the Washington Post in 2006 found that the average time to fix security bugs in Firefox was around 9 days (versus a whopping 284 days for Internet Explorer). And a separate study carried out by Symantec at around the same time found that Firefox not only had fewer security flaws than Internet Explorer, but also that they were far less severe than those in IE.

We've run Firefox on our own office machines since 2005 in conjunction with Internet Explorer. But within a few months we found that it had become our default browser of choice despite Firefox's one drawback (it takes a little longer to load than IE, because parts of IE get pre-loaded when Windows boots up). Why did Firefox become our default browser of choice? Simply because it was much more pleasant to use; made us more productive; and we didn't have to pull our hair out every time a new version appeared because menu options stayed in the same places.

Several of our clients who were running Microsoft office networks also swapped to Firefox when they encountered caching problems with IE (ie they'd updated their web sites but were unable to see the updates in their IE browsers no matter how many times they tried). Firefox had no problems with caching on a network and it solved this particular problem for them immediately. Get Firefox.

 

On Tuesday 2nd September 2008 Google surprised the world by releasing its own browser: Google Chrome. The new browser was developed by Google in secret and news about it was first leaked by a handful of European bloggers just 24 hours beforehand.

The new browser has the following features:
  • Google Chrome is based on - and built with - the open source application framework WebKit. It's intended to be a next-generation browser built for handling web applications rather than just web pages and it has Google Gears built-in.
  • Google has also built its own JavaScript engine (V8) to power web applications. V8 is a multi-threaded engine that offers significant speed improvements in JavaScript execution.
  • Browser tabs in Chrome get their own process rather than have all tabs sharing processes. This avoids the freeze-and-crash problem that affected early versions of Firefox by freeing up memory and reducing memory fragmentation.
  • Each tab also has its own URL box, effectively making each tab a truly separate browser window
  • There are no about:blank pages. Chrome defaults to a page featuring the four most used search engines and the user's nine most visited Web pages.
  • Similar to IE 8, Chrome has an "Incognito" mode to erase browser history when the browser is closed. This is something that Firefox 3 didn't include, but is very likely to include in future releases.
  • Chrome can be streamlined so that the toolbar and URL box are hidden and only the webpage is shown on the screen
  • Chrome features browser extensions allowing it to make hybrid applications similar to Adobe AIR
  • Chrome also has strong security features and sandboxes web pages, which prevents drive-by downloads and installations. It continuously makes contact with Google to update a list of known malware sites in order to warn Chrome users if they should run across those sites on the Net.

At present only a Windows version of Chrome is available (XP and Vista), but the company is working on versions for Mac and Linux too.

Reactions to Chrome have varied widely since its release, with some seeing the browser as a strong new challenger to Internet Explorer and others saying that it's still an immature product that will need to undergo further improvements to provide any real threat to either IE or Firefox.

Interestingly, Google re-inked their agreement with Firefox to be that browser's default search engine until 2011 on 1st September 2008 - just one day before Google Chrome's release. This is a $50 million a year deal that provides around 85% of Firefox's annual income. And Google have been Firefox's biggest supporter ever since that browser began in 2004. So that situation seems unlikely to change in the near future.

In our own tests of Chrome we found that it was marginally faster on the pages we usually surf to; that it supported those pages just as well as IE and Firefox (no need for webmasters to have heart attacks!); and that it worked seamlessly on machines that already had IE and Firefox installed (so yes, you can download and run it without worrying that it'll have any effect on your existing browser).

But after a day of exploring it we returned to Firefox. Why? Because we're simply more comfortable with the Fox. And at the moment the advantages that Chrome offers aren't sufficiently strong enough to make us want to change.

This may alter in the future, though, as web applications expand. And one thing's for certain: Google are certainly a company that no-one can overlook. Get Google Chrome.

 

Internet Explorer
Microsoft Internet Explorer (commonly known as IE) was first released in 1995 and became the dominant bowser by 2004 with around a 95% market share worldwide. This was partly because Microsoft leveraged its dominance in operating systems - particularly the Windows operating system - to put IE into the hands of hundreds of millions of users; and partly because early versions of IE tended to support emerging Internet standards better than Netscape Navigator did at the time.

A very buggy IE 1.0 was released in August 1995 and was quickly followed by IE 2.0 in November 1995. This was succeeded by IE 3.0 (August 1996), IE 4.0 (September 1997), IE 5.0 (March 1999) and IE 6.0 (September 2001).

By this time the destruction of arch-rival Netscape Navigator was almost complete, and after this Microsoft didn't release IE 7.0 until February 2005. A new IE 8.0 was planned for release in the first half of 2008 but as of August 2008 it's still in beta; late; and buggy.

IE 6.0 works on all versions of Windows from Windows95 onwards, but IE 7.0 only works on Windows XP SP2 and later (including Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Windows Vista). For this reason, IE 6.0 still has a much larger market share than IE 7.0 and this seems set to remain the case for some time to come.

The major drawbacks of IE are that it has very poor security and (in comparison to Firefox) inferior support for contemporary web standards (the browser uses Microsoft's own proprietary extensions for many of these instead).

In addition, Microsoft also has the annoying habit of moving menu options and functionality about from one version to the next, often necessitating the additional cost of retraining courses in large organisations. Quite a lot of the spyware, adware and viruses that can infect machines accessing the Net are made possible by exploitable bugs and flaws in Internet Explorer's security architecture (some require nothing more than viewing a malicious web page in IE in order to install themselves).

In our own office we had one of our machines infected with some very malicious malware when we accidentally surfed an innocuous-looking web page using IE, despite having a variety of sophisticated anti-virus and anti-adware software running at the time.

Although we were able to revive the machine by spending several days removing the worst of the infection, it's never run the same since and will need a complete reformat and reinstall to get it back to factory condition. We think that's a pretty high price to pay for using a buggy, insecure web browser. Get Internet Explorer

 

Safari
The Safari web browser was developed by Apple as the default browser for Mac OS X 10 and was first released in January 2003. However a beta version for Windows was released in June 2007 which runs on Windows XP and Windows Vista (and also works on Windows 2000, though not officially).

Safari has a bookmark management scheme that functions like the iTunes jukebox software. It integrates Apple's QuickTime multimedia technology and features tabbed-browsing. A Google/Yahoo search box is also a standard part of the interface, along with software services that automatically fill out web forms, manage passwords via Keychain and spell-check entries into web page text fields. Safari also includes an integrated pop-up ad blocker and - for developers - Web Inspector, a DOM Inspector-like utility that lets users and developers browse the Document Object Model of a web page.

Until the release of Firefox 3, Safari was rated as the fastest web browser for downloading new pages from the Net. And like Firefox, the browser has far fewer and far less serious bugs than IE and repair times for fixing security holes are much faster than Microsoft.

Safari's market share has been climbing ever since its initial release and by June 2008 it was estimated to have a 3.41% share, pushing Opera and Netscape into 4th and 5th place for Windows browsers, and all other Windows browsers combined into 6th place.

We have no personal experiences to report about Safari, but if you're interested in experimenting with small-share browsers this may be interesting to look at. Get Safari

 

Other Windows Web Browsers

 

Apple/Mac Web Browsers

 

Linux Web Browsers
This page last updated: 04-Sep-2008

 


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