Browser war: Firefox wins, IE loses, Chrome has finally a plan

In Depth - A merciless lens pointed on the hot topics, passionate and detailed retrospectives, reflections beyond the appearances Maybe the bolt from the blue of the Chrome launch didn’t brought an awful market share figure to the newcomer, but the convulsions and the undoubted evolutive acceleration set off by the release of the made-in-Google browser are reverberating with increasing strength on the new war to control the access port to the worldwide network. Currently numbers are still on Mozilla’s and its red panda side, but in future things will become more complicated when Google will have played one of its best cards to turn Chrome from an oddity for few into a conquering force for the mainstream market.

Google’s plan

The most noticeable news that closed 2008 for the browsers market was in fact the confirmation of Google’s will to sign deals with the largest PC OEM manufacturers, to install Chrome as the predefined browser for websurfing. Doing so Mountain View would behave exactly like Microsoft did at the times of Windows 95, which by permanently integrating Internet Explorer within the operating system succeeded in ousting Netscape thus monopolizing the market.

The browsers landscape of 2008 is largely different, however, and the Google move could be read as an initiative benefiting competition and the opportunity to choose for consumers. When it comes to networking the Mountain View brand exposure isn’t secondary to the Redmond one, and even if nothing is written it’s easy to foresee that the continuous loss of users of IE would get a noticeable acceleration if facts followed indiscretions and the Google-browser ended up on Dell, HP or whatever branded PCs.

After having spent the first months in a seeming confusional state, in which the early aggressiveness of Chrome’s conquest plan was dissolved in poor practical results and no sign of the will to start direct lunges toward competitors, Google made clear to anyone that they will be damned serious and consider Chrome as a fundamental tool for the company’s future. The project was even “promoted” outside of beta state, an absolutely unusual thing for a company that tends to classify many of its appliances as a permanent work-in-progress, due to the many updates that followed the initial release, the improved stability and the superior performances.

Chrome goes OEM

Image source: oneComics

Google is pushing for the adoption of its browser as much as it is possible, starting for example to replace Firefox with Chrome as the default choice in the Google Pack bundle. Software development is going on at sustained rates and Chrome continues to bring innovative features like the Native Client technology, an interpreter designed to let x86 machine code run directly in the browser so “to give web developers access to the full power of the client’s CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications“.

Then Google continues to boast for the superior performances of its browser and the V8 JavaScript engine, stating that the last code revision is 25% faster that the previous version in the V8 benchmark and 35% more performing in the SunSpider tests. Google says that now Chrome is twice as fast as it was with the first beta released in September.

Teardrops on Microsoft

Internet Explorer, meanwhile, does nothing than losing ground on the direct competitor that is Mozilla Firefox, which according to the StatsCounter’s esteems at the beginning of March resulted to be the first non-Microsoft browser to have overtaken the IE 6 market share, rising beyond 24% while this last one stepped down below 23%. Firefox 3 is the second most popular browser after IE 7, the gap between the two decreases at first sight and the fact considerably benefits Google too thanks to the deal with Mozilla on the default search engine in the red panda.

Besides the merciless competition from Firefox, in this period Microsoft must deal primarily with the European Union antitrust regulations: involved by a claim from Opera for anti-competitive conduct, Redmond tries to avoid the nth enormous fine by radically modifying the integration of IE with the Windows OS an
d contemplating, starting from the next Windows 7, the ability to easily uninstall the browser from the system.

If it was due to its own will, surely the corporation wouldn’t have thought about offering so much freedom of action to Wintel platform users, considering that as previously said the full melting of IE in Windows is the main reason for the browser predominance on competing products. Obliged to yield on the IE uninstallation, threatened by possible deals between Google and the OEM manufacturers Microsoft can only try to innovate with the new version of Internet Explorer.

Release 8 of IE is a shock for compatibility with websites big and small, it tends to crash with ease but has been built from a completely revamped engine and, as Microsoft says, much more compliant to web standards than it was in the past. Maybe even too much, considering that it has been necessary to contemplate the availability of a rendering layer based on IE 7 to not to make the product unusable and to implement a “blacklist” of incompatible websites to automatically display with the aforementioned secondary layer.

Browsers stats

If from the interface point of view IE 8 goes in the diametrically opposite direction to the austere simplicity of Chrome, behind the scenes the Microsoft browser embraces the same technological approach by creating a new system process for any opened tab, by implementing protections against phishing and XSS attacks and more generally by trying to guarantee a more robust browsing experience. Microsoft states to have developed the fastest browser, but in third party JavaScript tests IE 8 continues to be outclassed by Chrome and Firefox.

The present and the future of Mozilla

Whatever is the real value of the new Explorer, anyway, its distribution doesn’t seem to have caused particularly important effects on the growth of Firefox user base: in its launch day IE 8 gained 1.39% of market share, taking users mostly from who was still using IE 7. It was an “underwhelmed” launch, as Aodhan Cullen of StatsCounter describes it, something far away from what happened during the release of the final version of Firefox 3, gone in three days from 7.8% to 18.9% and outclassing IE 6 in this month.

Up to now IE 8 hasn’t changed practically anything in the long-lasting trends of the browsers market, and very likely the next version of the red panda will keep up with the series of successes achieved by Mozilla in these years thanks to the already reported TraceMonkey JS engine, capable of rivaling on an equal footing with Google’s V8, and thanks to some novel features like multiple JS threads, support to HTML 5 specifications <video> tag, support to Ogg Vorbis (audio) and Theora (video) open source formats and substantial improvements designed for web developers.

The improvements of the new Firefox are such that Mozilla decided to change version numbering, going straight from 3.0 to 3.5 rather than to 3.1 as initially expected. The immediate future of the red panda appears excellent, less certain are the pathways the foundation will decide to take to get rid of the cumbersome economic partnership with Google, which is currently worth 88% of its annual revenues (were 75 millions of dollars in 2007).

Firefox logo

Mitchell Baker, former CEO and now chairwoman of Mozilla, recently highlighted some of the possible alternatives to Google financing including the replacement of browser’s default search engine, monetization of add-ons and plug-ins and Fennec, the newborn mobile browser (a close relative of Firefox) arrived in the past days to beta 1 stage. “There have been more opportunities for money than people think” Baker said to BusinessWeek, and in a case an unnamed company “offered a blank check” to replace Google search engine.

Analysts agree to affirm that partnership between Mountain View and Mozilla serve more to the latter than to the first, and even if Baker professes optimistic on the collaboration renewal after 2011 (when the current deal expires) there are many signs, small but clear, of a marriage going into pieces. Google, by now, considers Firefox as a secondary choice in respect of “its” Chrome, and the Russian version of Mozilla browser will replace Google with Yandex, the largest search engine of the Russian Internet. Love is gone in the relationship between Google and Mozilla, who pays the bills has a new, younger lover and the touchy wife is searching for a new well off deal to start a new life with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *