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Network World - One of the tech industry's fiercest arguments for the last 15 years has been which Web browser rules the desktop. Now the pitch of the browser argument is getting louder — and more vendors are piping up — as the browser battle migrates from desktops to smartphones.
Netscape Navigator, the first popular browser, launched the Internet industry in October 1994 by allowing average users to view text and images posted on Web sites. Less than a year later, Microsoft entered the fray by bundling the free Internet Explorer browser into its Windows operating system. Within two years, Microsoft was the leading browser manufacturer, and Netscape was on the decline, prompting anti-trust investigations in the United States and Europe.
The browser market was shaken up again in 2004, when Netscape's browser was reborn as open software called Firefox, which is distributed by the Mozilla. Firefox continues to be a favorite among tech-savvy users because of its speed, and it remains the toughest competitor that Microsoft faces in the browser arena. Firefox 4, due for release in 2010, will feature performance enhancements designed to make it even speedier.
A third contender joined the browser argument in 2008, when Google introduced its open source Chrome browser. The latest version is Chrome 5.0, which was released as beta code in May 2010. Chrome 5.0 competes against Internet Explorer in the speed department and supports emerging standards such as HTML5.
IE8, the current version of Internet Explorer, is considered to be the best browser when it comes to thwarting malware, according to a March 2010 report. But IE8's anti-malware feature also introduces some security risks that will be patched in June 2010. A preview of IE9 was released in May 2010, but the software isn't due out until 2011.
As of April 2010, Internet Explorer retained 60% of overall browser market share, followed by 25% for Firefox and 7% for Chrome, according to Netmarketshare.com.
Which vendor will win the browser argument? Perhaps, it will be none of these vendors because today's best-selling smartphones use alternative browsers. Symbian devices from Nokia and others typically use their own browsers or an alternative from Opera Software. The iPhone uses Apple's own Safari browser. Google's Android operating system for mobile devices has its own browser with Adobe Flash 10.1 support. And RIM's BlackBerry has a new-and-improved browser that stems from its acquisition of Torch Mobile.
With all these new entrants into the market, the browser argument is likely to remain just as fierce and just as loud in the future.
Read more about software in Network World's Software section.