Tuesday, November 9, 2004 will likely go down in the history books as the day the browser wars officially started. Obviously things happened before today to get us to the point where there was a real, legitimate and empowered combatant to Microsoft´s incumbent Internet Explorer, but we´ll get to that in a minute.
For now, it is time to sit back and realize what´s happened. A free, Open Source, community built, community marketed browser is steadily making gains on Internet Explorer (IE). While they aren´t yet huge gains, considering the software was only officially released today they are fairly substantial gains.
FireFox and the other Mozilla browsers now hold 5-10% of the browser market, and the release of the flagship Open Source project will only increase the project´s momentum.
To get a real perspective for how far this project has come, you have to go back to 1994. Netscape created the first real browser, and it took the world by storm. Internet Explorer came out with better features, better availability and a more open developer mindset. Internet Explorer won the wars and then stagnated. Netscape was bought by AOL. AOL launched the Mozilla development arm, which created the Mozilla browser.
From the Mozilla browser came a new development team, the FireBird team, who later renamed their browser FireFox because of legal and marketing issues.
It has literally taken this team nearly 6 years to get to where they are today, with at least 2 years of hardcore programming, development and community building. The effort has been, arguably, huge and, hopefully, worthwhile.
Besides IE´s stagnation, continued security holes in Microsoft´s browser have lead to an increasingly visible campaign to use “anything but IE”, and FireFox looks to be the prime contender in a very David vs Goliath battle. The question is: who is the Goliath? Is it Microsoft with billions in marketing dollars and a newly vetted Internet Explorer team? Or is it more than one million community evangelists all bent on making FireFox the de facto standard in online browsing?
Either way, FireFox´s speed, accessibility and fast release cycle will likely appeal to a reasonably large number of users who are sick of IE´s security issues. FireFox will have issues of its own, of course, but the hope is that the active development team will be able to deal with them quickly.