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Tech Arguments 2012

Browser battle: Chrome vs. Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera

Chrome and IE vie for top spot, but rest of the competition remains fierce

By , Network World
December 03, 2012 07:08 AM ET

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INTERNET EXPLORER

The long-time unchallenged leader of the pack, IE is no longer quite as dominant as it was a decade ago, when few used any other browser. However, time and anti-trust litigation notwithstanding, Microsoft's browser still commands a huge user base.

Competition, in a very real way, has been a positive thing for IE, forcing Microsoft to modernize and innovate far more rapidly than it did during its unchallenged period. The past few versions - most notably IE 8, 9 and now 10 - have all boasted substantial performance increases and added support for new standards like HTML5, designed to bring it more into line with Chrome and Firefox.

Still, particularly among highly technical types, a powerful dislike of IE runs deep. Saying "IE 6" to a web developer is practically guaranteed to provoke gritted teeth and shudders of frustration (at least!), thanks to a widespread perception that Microsoft's lack of innovation held back the development of new web standards for years.

Microsoft has worked to overcome that antipathy with recent versions of the browser, but is it enough to recover an unchallenged lead in the market?

FIREFOX

Since 2004, Firefox has been stuck as a perpetual second-fiddle - first to IE, then to Chrome. It's perhaps a little unfortunate that the browser that first began to erode Microsoft's iron grip over the marketplace has never enjoyed its own period of dominance, but Firefox nonetheless has a huge number of users, and is said to be the most common browser in many parts of the world, particularly Europe and Africa.

Firefox was the first to introduce tabbed browsing, also known as "the reason why you don't have about 46 different windows open on your desktop right now," and pioneered an ecosystem of plug-ins, allowing users to modify the browser in many ways. An open-source project - curated and managed by the Mozilla Foundation - Firefox is dedicated to open web standards and helped bring about a climate in which they could thrive.

Unfortunately, however, the past year or so hasn't been particularly kind to Firefox. It's now pretty clearly in third place behind Chrome and IE in terms of market share, and missteps like a me-too move to a rapid development schedule irritated crucial enterprise users.

While it still has a vital development community and millions of users around the world, Firefox has to make a big move to catch up with its main rivals - which, importantly, are both backed by enormously wealthy corporate titans.

OPERA

There's no getting around it - Opera is the iconoclast of the group. It was the underground browser long before the rise of Firefox, and, well, it's still the underground browser. That said, it has a devout and influential following among the geekiest echelons of the tech world.

Despite a number of innovative features like "turbo mode" - which uses Opera's own servers as a compression proxy to help users on slow connections - and powerful integrated features like a mail client and BitTorrent support, Opera has struggled to build much of a user base outside of Eastern Europe. It is the leading browser in just one country - Belarus.

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