The Mozilla Foundation has released Firefox 1.0 to fan the flames of a brewing explosion of competition among Web browsers. Mozilla aims to achieve 10% market share for Firefox a goal that may not seem ambitious, but is enough to spur Microsoft to renew its effort to preserve Internet Explorers (IE) dominance.
Case in point: Microsoft has previously promised an extensive browser upgrade in its next Windows operating system upgrade called Longhorn. This operating system upgrade is currently scheduled to be released by 2007.
To its credit, Microsofts XP Service Pack 2 upgrade did include an IE upgrade that fixed closed-security vulnerabilities. Similarly, the word on the street is that Microsoft plans to release a new, complete upgrade sooner and could arrive within 18 months.
So why has Microsoft been less aggressive in leading the charge of Web browsers?
First, browser development is a drain on the budget of a company like Microsoft. Simply put, upgrading a complex browser like IE is expensive, and the returns on investment are minimal (see the third item below).
Second, Microsoft has enjoyed such a large, installed share-base and no real competition to challenge its dominance.
Third, browsers generally dont make much revenue for the companies that build them. For the most part, the software is free. Microsoft has made no direct revenue from the IE browser, but revenue is generated by the sale of the operating system and other software that use it as a utilitarian tool that helps maintain operating system domination of the desktop and server markets.
Why should Microsoft bother with a browser upgrade?
Simple: escape the embarrassment of bowing down to smaller rival companies like Firefox or Opera that happen to currently creating a better browser and maintain the end-to-end integrity of its Windows operating system platform dominance.
The Firefox buzz is good. Its simple, fast, streamlined, and (most important) not susceptible to many of the security holes that afflict Microsoft’s browser. Firefox also supports hundreds of extensions that add functionality.
Other features include:
*pop-up blocking — Firefox includes an integrated pop-up blocker that lets the user decide when they will view pop-ups. Mozilla continues to set the standard in assisting users to avoid annoying pop-ups;
*online fraud protection — Firefox attempts to protect users against online fraud such as “phishing” (attempts to trick users into giving away their passwords) and “spoofing” (fraudulent sites masquerading as popular, trusted sites) by clearly displaying the true identity of secure sites;
*an easier, more accessible search function — Firefox clearly integrates leading search services into the toolbar, including Google search, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon, Dictionary.com, Creative Commons, and more. The new Firefox Start Page also provides access to Firefox information, resources and application tips, coupled with an integrated Google search box;
*more efficient browsing — Firefox’s innovative Tabbed Page Browsing allows many Web pages to load within the same window, improving the speed and utility of Web browsing. Firefox also introduces Live Bookmarks, which allows users to easily glance through the latest news and RSS blog headline feeds;
*and easy migration with Firefox Its easy to switch from Internet Explorer and other browsers. Firefox imports existing bookmarks, passwords, cookies, and other data.
Are browser upgrades and improvements necessary?
My experience has been that most people dont use all the cool browser features of IE 6.0. Its probably fair to say that most Windows users may not have benefited much if Microsoft had aggressively upgraded its browser.
It is still about time for some improvement and simplification, which ironically is what Firefox has done very well. Adding browser features because they are cool is not enough of a reason. The improvements need to make getting the information we seek easier and more relevant to our daily information needs.