Browser Wars Resume as Microsoft, Firefox Prep Updates

Firefox 3 Beta 2 hits in time for the holidays; Microsoft queues up IE 8 beta for first half '08.

The browser wars ain't over.

Microsoft is queuing up a beta one release of Internet Explorer 8 for the first half of 2008 while beta 3 of upstart Firefox 3 hit the Web last week, just in time for the holidays.

And, the Mozilla folks behind Firefox last week also started talking about a new project, called Weave, to make it easier for developers to build dynamic applications and for users to control their personal data.

The goal is to furnish a set of basic, optional Mozilla-hosted online services and make sure people can set up their own services using open-standards tools, according to the Web site. The organization wants to demonstrate a "consistent model" for users who want to open up their browser metadata to friends and third-party applications. And, wants to enable such sharing while also protecting privacy -- using client-side encryption by default but allowing the user to delegate and control access rights. More on Weave here.

Microsoft retains market share leadership with upwards of 75 or 80 percent share depending on the researcher and methodology but Firefox continues to make strides. As of November of this year, IE weighed in with 77.35 percent browser share compared to 16.01 percent for Firefox and 5.14 percent for Safari. according to Net Applications. Opera and Netscape accounted for 0.65 percent and 0.60 percent respectively. That showed some movement from the year-ago figures which pegged IE at 80.71 percent and Firefox at 13.52 percent. Safari was 4.03 percent and Netscape at 0.85 percent.

Microsoft last week boasted that its nascent IE 8 passed the "acid2 Browser test" by the Web Standards Project, an important milestone for a company that's been accused of subverting key standards rather than supporting them. Indeed, Opera, a small browser player out of Norway, has petitioned the European Commission to sanction Microsoft for its refusal to comply with standards.

When IE came on years ago in the first major browser battle against then-dominant Netscape Navigator, there were no standards for such things as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and Really Simple Syndication (RSS). That means many legacy PCs out there running old IE browsers do not support those standards. This is not a trivial matter. Data from Upsdell shows that a significant portion of IE users are on versions IE 6 or earlier vs. the current IE 7.

This browser battle is anything but academic for developers who want their Web-based applications to be viewable and useable from PCs of all ages and provenance.

"You don't want your app to break when it gets out there," says Peter Eddy, a developer with ATG Group, Cambridge, Mass. "Unfortunately, it's pretty expensive to do that testing, especially with Windows where there's a lot of versions of IE and so you need to do a lot of tests."

His company internally tests against IE and Firefox but customers who use ATG's products to create their own web applications may have to do more extensive testing on fringe browsers depending on their target audience.

Eddy says he and 90 percent of his team rely on Firefox and they use QA to test IE. The new beta "looks pretty much the same but it seems to use a lot less memory. The problem with Firefox till now is that you're going along and suddenly it's using 100 megs and you have to shut down."

Microsoft probably faces more, and more vituperative, scrutiny than other browser players. Everyone wants to take down the Goliath so when there are issues with IE -- and there have been -- they get picked up.

Barbara Darrow, industry editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Developer News and Redmond Channel Partner, can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Barbara Darrow is Industry Editor for Redmond Developer News, Redmond magazine and Redmond Channel Partner. She has covered technology and business issues for 20 years.