Mozilla is just one option of web browser among many. Why do we have different web browsers? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just had one?
I've been asked by BBC Bitesize to answer some questions before an audio interview that may feature on some new content they're producing.
6. Mozilla is just one option of web browser among many. Why do we have different web browsers? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just had one?
A Web browser is a software application that allows people to access the World Wide Web. The most common browsers at the time of writing are Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer. There are also other browsers with less market share. Having competition between companies that make Web browsers is important for the health of the Web and developing new features. A quick overview of the history of Web browsers helps explain this.
Although basic Web browsers existed beforehand, the first major browser usable by non-experts was Mosaic. This later became Netscape Navigator and was in direct competition with a browser bundled with Microsoft Windows called Internet Explorer 1.0. The first 'browser wars' led to rapid development of features by Netscape and Microsoft but this changed in 1997 when Microsoft tightly integrated Internet Explorer 4.0 with Windows. Given the near-monopoly Microsoft enjoyed over operating systems at this point Internet Explorer became the de facto browser people used to access the Web. Netscape Navigator's market share plummeted and, by 2002, over 95% of people used Internet Explorer.
The important thing to point out after giving this brief history is that because of its monopoly position, Microsoft did not need to continue innovating and building new features in Internet Explorer. Between 2001 and 2006 only one new version of Internet Explorer was released.
The response from Netscape was to Open Source Netscape Navigator and entrust it to the newly-formed Mozilla Foundation. New features, such as tabbed browsing, came with a new browser from Mozilla which, after a couple of name changes, was known as Mozilla Firefox. In addition, Opera Software released a new browser leading to three-way competition. As a result, Microsoft began adding new features to Internet Explorer and began, slowly, to adopt Web standards established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Apple's 'Safari' and Google's 'Chrome' browsers also led to increased competition.
The important thing with browsers is that we have constant innovation (leading to new features) and standards-compliance (leading to a healthy ecosystem). Competition between those creating Web browsers has led to both of these being true at the moment. The next 'battleground' is mobile where there is the danger of Microsoft's tactics with Internet Explorer and Windows being replicated. For example, Apple have given themselves a competitive advantage by allowing only one rendering engine on iOS that gives Safari a speed advantage. Mozilla has again attempted to mitigate this by creating FirefoxOS, a Open Source mobile Operating System built entirely upon Web standards.