The Browser Battle

As part of Microsoft’s diverse business plan, nothing is off-limits when it comes to using an existing product or technology and remodeling it for their own success. For Bill Gates and Microsoft, after the emergence of the internet, web browsers were crucial to sustaining success and expansion in the industry. The web browser is an application that has its own GUI that resides on top of the computer’s operating system and can access data from anywhere on the network or the computer’s hard drive(Yoffie et al, pg. 5). Microsoft used this to its advantage and created its own web browser, called Internet Explorer. After integrating the browser with its operating system (Windows 98), Microsoft effectively gained control over the browser market. Previous competitor Netscape lost its 87% market share and dropped to 3% in 2003, while Microsoft had an astounding 95% market share in that same year.

Microsoft's Web Browser Competition

After Netscape’s departure from the market, Microsoft dominated. That was until 2003, when Mozilla’s Firefox, an open-source browser that was based on a greatly reworked version of Netscape’s original software (Yoffie et al, pg. 5), entered the market and grew very fast. Since 2005, many new competitors have arisen, including Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and recently Google’s Chrome. In 2007, Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 were comparable by many means and struggle over the market share was quickly shifting. In a comparison by Robert Vamosi, senior editor from CNETreviews, three judges broke down a five-round bout between the two most current browsers. In an analysis of the following categories; installation woes, look and community, tabbed browsing, cool new features, and security and performance, Mozilla’s Firefox won every category, earning the title of “the better browser”. By being perceived as the better browser, Firefox is establishing itself as a serious player in the market. Based on Michael E. Porters’ Industry Structure model, Firefox is an example of a substitute to Internet Explorer in the browser Industry. If Microsoft wants to maintain their dominance, then they must deal with Mozilla along with other competitors. In a 2008 survey from IANS, they report that Microsoft executives said, “Prior to the launch of Firefox four years ago, Internet Explorer had over 90 per cent of the market, and Microsoft's fading power on the Internet is a chief strategic concern.” In a response to this, Internet Explorer countered with the new Internet Explorer 8 (IE8). Some of the new added features of the IE8 browser include the popular tabbed browsing. The tabbed browsing feature is one that sets Firefox apart from the rest of the competition. The fact that Microsoft has adopted that feature on its browser shows that any agent can influence or be influenced by other agents. In order to establish itself as differentiated from Firefox, and to gain a competitive advantage by enhancing existing products, Microsoft has taken pride in its new security features. Taken from a 2009 article by Om Malik, "Nash was particularly excited about the new security feature of the browser that protects browser users via a reputation system.” This adaptation by Microsoft also shows how the company exhibits the Complex Adaptive Systems strategies of developing emergent behavior and operating far from equilibrium. The company shows emergent behavior by being fluid and adapting to others’ strategies and trying to improve upon them. Microsoft has always done this and the browser war is no exception. Operating far from equilibrium basically means that there is never a constant developed. Microsoft’s power over the market share never stays the same. It fluctuates positively and negatively over time and never operates right at equilibrium. These are a few of Microsoft’s responses to their new competitor on the market. Some more enhancements added to Internet Explorer 8 are accelerators, web slices, and security and privacy (Goodfellow 14). So this surely means that Microsoft has the better browser, right? Not necessarily, according to a 2009 statement from Internet Explorer senior director Amy Barzdukas, “all browsers are fast, and the difference between the speed is generally not significant enough to make any difference”.

Mozilla Firefox Taking Over?

The browser war may never end but currently, and with the release of IE8, Microsoft hopes to keep it’s stranglehold on the global market share and thwart all newcomers. The company’s hope may remain strong, but the facts are leaning towards proving otherwise. According to new data from Net Applications, “Microsoft's cumulative worldwide browser share for Internet Explorer (all versions) dropped from 67.44 percent in February to 66.82 percent in March; meanwhile, Firefox's global market share increased in the same period from 21.77 percent to 22.05 percent—with Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari also showing gains.”(Duncan p. 2) This trend is highlighted in other areas of the globe. In Europe, Firefox has finally established its superiority over Internet Explorer, according to April 2009 statistics, “Firefox now hogs a healthy 35.09 percent of the market share compared to IE 7.0’s 34.51 percent” (Slocombe). This once again goes back to complex adaptive systems theory, because the landscape is unknowable and unpredictable. One minute you have the majority market share and experience a peak in the fitness landscape, the next minute you lose control and are struggling to keep your position. The introduction of IE8 proves substantial as well as Firefox's continued success; however, even more competitors are emerging, seeking new peaks in the fitness landscape, mainly Google Chrome.

The Future of Web Browsers

The future of Microsoft’s web browser is in peril. Browsers are no longer just a tool for searching for information, they have become, for many people, their principal communications medium, their photo album, their newspaper, social club, bank and shopping mall(Mossberg). Companies must maintain innovation to have the latest and greatest in order to keep their customers and attract new ones with the increased reliance on browsers for everyday use. With Firefox’s shadowing of Internet Explorer since 2003, and the continuing trend of new competitors and new technology, nothing is for certain. Even for Firefox, who is beginning to take control and has high hopes considering its potential and already proven success, needs to be fearful. Two things are a factor in today’s continually changing browser world. First of all, Google’s new web browser, Chrome, is an un-established, yet powerful player in the web browser market. Google Chrome is receiving rave reviews due to its security and simple design. One analyst concluded, "While Firefox is a strong desktop browser, my guess is that Google Chrome is the coming thing. I would expect a version of that browser to win on Android devices"(Blankenhorn 2009). In addition to Chrome's powerful design, contractual complications may arise in the near future. Google supports Mozilla’s Firefox browser through a search contract which expires in 2011 where renewal is skeptical. Does this mean an end to Firefox? Only time will tell but this spells trouble for Firefox’s lifespan, according to web pro news, “It could be Google feels its own browser could take Firefox’s share and a little more of IE’s if marketed properly.”(Miller 2009) Even further down the line is the possibility of mobile web browsers taking over. The popularity of mobile web browsing is increasing due to the iPhone and other smartphones like the Blackberry. The mobile web browser options are limited due to carrier restrictions, but if Microsoft could get its hands on the Mobile web browser market, it could do serious damage. Currently, Microsoft lags behind in that market, but according to a report from MSNBC, “Microsoft hopes to play catch-up in the mobile browsing world with its improved Internet Explorer Mobile that will be part of the Windows Mobile operating system upgrade available on new phones later this year” (Choney 2009).

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