Browser Battle

Mozilla Moves in on Microsoft’s Monopoly Market

News | Lavdim Ismaili | November 2006

Internet users witnessed a renaissance in the way that they surf the Internet in late October, with the release of new versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox happening within days of each other.

Internet Explorer 7 came exactly five years after its predecessor, widely criticized for its security standards, while Mozilla landed version 2.0 of its remarkably successful program less than two years after its breakthrough into the web browser domain.

Firefox has been lauded for its free, open-source platform – the exact opposite business model from the monopoly-geared ambitions of Microsoft. While versions of Internet Explorer are periodically released as complete and unchangeable programs, Firefox allows its users to access the source code and change anything they like, and even distribute their own "new and improved" version.

This innovation, coupled with functionality, compatibility and free distribution has successfully placed Mozilla Corporation’s Firefox in a position to compete with a software giant like Microsoft.

Initial reviews of the latest release of these browsers by tech-sites such as ZDNet and Wired said that they have delivered "significant enhancements" in three key areas: user experience, security, and web standards.

Firefox 2.0 earned positive remarks for fresh improvements on search box features, advanced RSS feed support, the new in-line spell checking (which corrects your spelling as you type,) the introduction of a phishing-detection system, and a sleek new look.

Internet Explorer 7, on the other hand, has been applauded for major upgrades including the introduction of the search box, tabbed browsing, RSS feed support, and a phishing-detection system, features which enhance its ease of use and user friendliness.

Although both Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 7 failed on the "Web Standards Project Acid2" test – designed to ensure browser compatibility with a standardized set of practices used in website development – they still guarantee support for the vast majority of web content.

Apart from not making it through the Acid2 test, the new browsers have only a few minor disadvantages, experts say, mainly concerning the ease of use.

Many comparisons of the browsers’ functionality, however, have singled out Firefox 2 for having an edge over its rival, Internet Explorer 7.

The features, like the search box, tabbed browsing, and feed support – which Microsoft has only integrated in their newest version – have been part of Firefox for a long time. Firefox has effectively utilized this advantage by bringing further innovation, such as the ability to revive a tab that has been accidentally closed.

Firefox has also been better at dealing with security flaws than Internet Explorer, which is partly due to its open-source platform and the big number of contributors, and arguably because of its lower share of the browser market, which makes it less attractive to hackers.

Unfortunately, because identifying security flaws often takes time, early reviews have focused heavily on feature comparisons and improvements from previous versions.

Bug trackers and some computer security companies, however, have found several key flaws, particularly in Internet Explorer’s anti-phishing system, which would let phishing scams pass undetected. Firefox, on the other hand, has been reported, though not fully confirmed, to have a minor vulnerability that causes the program to crash, and an alleged flaw that could aid in cyberscams.

With a 12% share of the worldwide browser market and steady growth indications, Firefox is seen as a challenge to Internet Explorer’s domination in the market, which has for the past six years been dubbed the "Microsoft monoculture." The biggest numbers of recorded Firefox users are in Europe, with around 20 percent, while Germany leads the table with 39 percent.

Although limited only to the web browser market, Mozilla’s breakthrough is the first serious challenge to Microsoft. And while it has been fighting to keep its market control intact, Mozilla’s success through its free, open-source platform, and collective contribution model is seen by many opponents of Microsoft’s monopoly in the software market as the flagship of much needed diversification.

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