Browserwar entering the next phase? Internet Explorer 7 versus Firefox 2

On: October 25, 2006
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About Anne Helmond
Anne Helmond is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture and Program Director of the MA New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Digital Methods Initiative research collective where she focuses her research on the infrastructure of social media platforms and apps. Her research interests include digital methods, software studies, platform studies, app studies, infrastructure studies and web history.


Firefox IconAnd so at last the beast fell and the unbelievers rejoiced. But all was not lost, for from the ash rose a great bird. The bird gazed down upon the unbelievers and cast fire and thunder upon them. For the beast had been reborn with its strength renewed, and the followers of Mammon cowered in horror – from The Book of Mozilla, 7:151 (type about:mozilla in the address bar)

Microsoft and Mozilla just released their new browsers: Internet Explorer 7 was released October 18 and Firefox 2 was on October 24. What can we expect?

In my Bachelor thesis (in Dutch) I gave a brief overview of the first browserwar between Netscape and Microsoft. I discussed the several tactics that were used by Microsoft to push Netscape out of the market.

The browserwar is a type of standardization war which Shapiro and Varian define as:

Standard wars -battles for market dominance between incompatible technologies- are a fixture of the information age. (Shapiro, Carl en Hal R. Varian. ‘The Art of Standard Wars’ California Management Review. Vol. 41, no. 2 (Winter 1999))

Shapiro and Varian also define seven assets a company should have to win such a standard war:

1. control of an installed base of users
2. intellectual property rights
3. ability to innovate
4. first-mover advantages
5. manufacturing abilities
6. presence in complementary products
7. brand name and reputation

Ad 1. Control of an installed base of users
This asset allowed Microsoft to win the first browserwar. They illegally made use of their monopoly position/installed userbase by completely integrating Internet Explorer into the Windows operating system (installed on aprox. 90% of all computers). With this move Microsoft assured itself of an enormous userbase for their Internet Explorer browser. Netscape didn’t have this userbase and had to be downloaded from the Web which at the time (1997-1999) took a long time and being online was quite expensive back then. Netscape lost the battle and decided in 1998 to publish the source code of their Netscape Navigator browser as an open source code. Mozilla was born out of this source code and released their first Mozilla Firefox browser on November 9, 2004. Firefox has been hailed as a huge improvement over Internet Explorer 6.0 which was released in the summer of 2004. There have been only minor updates on Internet Explorer for over two years while Firefox has been taking giant steps e.g. by introducing tabbed browsing, an integrated search engine and by better supporting the W3C-standards. Ever since the introduction of the Firefox browser Internet Explorer has been losing ground. Worldwide Firefox now has a user share of 12,93% while in some European countries such as Germany 39,02% of the users (ZDnet) use Firefox! Firefox had about two years to build its own loyal user base and is now taking advantage of that.

Ad. 2 Intellectual property rights & Ad 3. Ability to innovate
Here lies the big difference between Internet Explorer and Firefox. Firefox is being developed by the Mozilla Foundation which is an open source community of developers and testers. Because Firefox is open source it can take advantage of the wisdom of crowds in the developer community and thus pushing innovation. Internet Explorer is based on intellectual property rights and its source code is secret and cannot be modified by anyone outside of Microsoft. Thus innovation lies in the hands of the Internet Explorer developer team which is a hell of a lot smaller than the open source community surrounding Mozilla Firefox.

Microsoft is known for its imitation rather than its innovation. The release of Internet Explorer 7 proves this point again. Firefox has introduced some nice features in the browser world, including: tabbed browsing, automatic popup blocking, integrated search, RSS integration, etc. Some of the features, such as tabbed browsing, have now been copied by Microsoft and implemented in their new release of IE. In the meanwhile Firefox continues to innovate with improved tabbed browsing (e.g: you can now close each tab with a small close button), an integrated spell check, improved RSS, search suggestions in the integrated toolbar, etc.)

Ad 4. First-mover advantages
Neither Internet Explorer or Firefox is a first-mover in the browser market, but IE has a seven year advantage.

Ad 5. Manufacturing abilities
This is closely related to the difference between IE and Firefox in the sense that Firefox is open-source. Manufacturing a browser (doing research, coding, user testing etc) can be quite costly, but Firefox has the advantage of the open-source community it can rely on. Developers, coders and testers devote their time and knowledge on improving Firefox for free, while IE has a huge paid staff.

Ad 6. Presence in complementary products
Microsoft has an enormous presence in complementary products such as the Windows operating system, the e-mail program Outlook, the Office suite, MSN Search. Mozilla is trying to catch up with Thunderbird e-mail and the Open Office project. It has also teamed up with Google which is the default setting in the integrated tab search.

Ad 7. Brand name and reputation
Microsoft and Internet Explorer don’t have the best reputation. Microsoft is accused of being an imitator and slow at fixing (security) bugs. It took them two years to release a new version of Internet Explorer and then we are not even talking about the new upcoming (?) operating system. Mozilla regularly releases updates for it’s Firefox browser. It used to have the status of the “cool outsider”, the alternative to the almighty Internet Explorer. But the days that only techgeeks use Firefox are over. Mozilla’s brand name and reputation are strong and seems to get stronger every day…

So have you upgraded yet?
I upgraded both ! I have been a Firefox fan for years now but I’ll give IE 7 a try in the next few days (I will have to because my phone provider doesn’t support Firefox if I want to send text messages online). I am still getting used to Firefox its new tab look, but I just love the improvement that I no longer have to close a separate tab with a right mouse click. I’m also curious if the search suggestions in the integrated toolbar will bring up something I didn’t think about. And I’m going to try-out some add ons such as Clipmarks and NewsFox (I already have the nice add-on installed).

Have you tried Firefox 2 or IE 7 yet? Opinions?

IE Firefox cake
IE sends Firefox a cake: Competing browser teams in love or in war? From: fredericiana

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