The Browser Wars - Part II

With the death of Netscape Navigator, AOL-Netscape decided to open-source the browser code, and entrusted its development to the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, to create a successor to Netscape Navigator. For several years, while Internet Explorer was dominating the market, the community-powered Mozilla would develop for several years a new browser, and not a internet suite like Netscape used to have. It included new features such as separate bars for web addresses and search.

The launch of Firefox

The initial version was called Mozilla Phoenix, but due to trademark issues with the BIOS Manufacturer Phoenix. Then, the Mozilla Foundation decided to opt for a new branding, Mozilla Firebird, but was met by opposition from another Open Source Project called Firebird database server, and then decided to change it to Firefox. On November 9th, 2004, Mozilla Firefox 1.0 was released and was a very complete web browser, and most of all it was a free OSS web browser which worked very fast. In the meantime, AOL would also maintain its own version of the Netscape Navigator, but specifically tailored for AOL users. Unlike Mozilla, they decided to keep the idea of a full browser suite. Mozilla Firefox would then rise to become de facto standard web browser on Linux, also as fast and open-source. Mozilla Firefox would continue having an increasing market share even amongst Windows Users.

Microsoft answers

Microsoft answers by deprecating standalone versions of its Internet Explorer browser, and integrate it further to its Windows OS, and add new tools such as Windows Presentation Foundation and XAML.

The rise of new web standards

In April 2004, Mozilla and Opera united their efforts to develop new open tech standards adding more capabilities while at the same time keeping as much compatibility as possible with existing technologies. The end result was the creation of WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) which would draft standards to be submitted to the W3C for approval.

With the diversification of the device and browser markets, extended use of DOM and scripting abilities, the introduction of mobile devices and other things such as Pocket PCs, made web standards necessary for all uses.

Web standard testing

All of this prompts Microsoft to adapt to the new standards, though its implementations aren’t closely following them. It still performs terribly in many tests such as the Acid tests. Internet Explorer will still be forced upon Windows users, but security will gradually improve a lot.

Opera decides to make its browser fully free, after decades of it being a paid software - though during that period they’d be the ones who’d implement a new feature first (e.g.: tabs, BitTorrent,…) and be supported even on very exotic systems like the Nintendo DS. However, they struggled to be an important player, as all the giants would rapidly copy their features.

The decline of IE

Microsoft will later adopt a new stance as Internet Explorer’s market share is shrinking although remains dominant: IE will no longer exist for Mac, and it will now include Windows Genuine Advantage, a tool to verify if the installed Windows is legit. Instead of consolidating the IE userbase, this shortened it even more, and Microsoft decides to back off with the WGA tool. They then start working seriously for their browser to pass the Acid2 test - which goes perfectly, but they’re the last to support it. IE is then submitted to the Acid3 test where it fails miserably with a 20/100 score, especially because of the Web Accelerators.

At the same time, as Mozilla Firefox passed the tests long ago, Mozilla works to improve many features and make video, sound and images support completely native in-browser, which improves a lot the market share of Firefox.

The arrival of standards has brought an end to a decades-old rule of Internet Explorer and Microsoft.

Part 3: The rise of WebKit will come soon!