The browser market is still broken

The current state of the browser market is harming the development of the web and things need to change

Some good news

Thankfully we are through the worst of the Browser Wars where sites were created specifically for one browser. Much work has been done to get the web community in general to embrace web standards under the guise of the W3C. We are in a much better position than we were 5 years ago and developers can now create standards compliant sites safe in the knowledge that they will work on the majority of browsers.

Firefox recently celebrated five years in existence and in that time it has done much to disrupt the marketplace. Safari (with its mothership Apple) has pushed forward new standards and along with its Webkit sibling Chrome continues to offer an excellent products for consumers.

Mostly bad news

There is still something deeply wrong with the browser market though. In any market all you can wish for is that the best products rise to the top in terms of value and the product. In a transparent, fair market this generally happens by default.

Most browsers are free to consumers so the decision as to which browser an individual uses is based solely on quality. Or it should be.

An Antitrust complaint was filed by Opera with the EU, with Windows reacting by offering alternative browsers for installation on Windows 7. This is a positive step but does not fix the main issue that in Internet Explorer the worst product is still dominating the market.

Internet Explorer 9

The announcement on the IE Blog that Internet Explorer 9 is in development, demonstrably demonstrates how far behind Internet Explorer is as a product. There are tangible, quantitative metrics like The Acid3 test that show just how far behind Internet Explorer is. This isn’t subjective user experience. This is fact. It performs very poorly in relation to other browsers.

I’ve stated before that I am not anti-Microsoft. I just want to see the best products rising to the top of the market. The IE development team, who are too often lambasted on the IE Blog, have made great progress in bringing the product up to speed with Standards, particularly with IE8. But they are still behind.

What’s gone wrong?

Undoubtedly the tethering of Internet Explorer to the Windows Operating System has been a major factor. There should be a choice and most users are not even aware that there is one.

I do also feel there has been a failure in marketing alternative browsers. The browser market is a marketeers dream. There is a slow, sluggish incumbent product dominating the market and many better products beneath it. On almost every level challengers outperform the incumbent, so marketeers can pick any angle to deliver their message. But they haven’t really succeeded.

Perhaps it is because competing browsers are largely open source and have no marketing budget. Perhaps it is because as a web community we haven’t organised well enough in spreading a message.

Why do I care?

Ultimately I care because the current state of the browser market is harming the development of the web. Things are changing, but too slowly in my opinion.

The IE9 announcement demonstrated just how far behind the incumbent product is in this market. I just hope that I’m not still scratching my head like this when IE10 is released.


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