Browser Wars: Trends and Predictions for 2015
A look into the past at the top internet browsers of the time and the shift toward the current browser market share. What to expect from browsers in 2015.
Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift in which browsers people use. This article will cover Desktop browsers, as the mobile market is still changing too fast to draw trends from and has a limited history. Although Internet browsers on the Desktop date back to the earliest days of the internet, the shift has been quite dramatic.
Browser Share 10 Years Ago
In order to see the dramatic change of browser usage, it's necessary to show the landscape of browsers when the internet was first really being taken to its full potential and making headway in the mainstream. Google Chrome is absent due to the fact it didn't have a stable release until 2008, and there was still a Mozilla browser separate from Firefox.
Some of these may sound unfamiliar, but their importance is relevant. The Mozilla Browser's code was based on Netscape, and Firefox spun off as a ‘lightweight' version of Mozilla. Opera has remained obscure, but despite its low market share was the first to implement many of the browser features we now take for granted, such as tabbed browsing (implemented in Opera 4 in 2000) and the “speed dial” you see when you first load a blank window in many browsers. Most notably, Internet Explorer dominated the browser market in 2005. Some of the reasons for this were tight integration of Internet Explorer into Windows, and the simple fact that at the time a lot of people didn't even know alternative browsers existed. In 2015 the picture looks very different:
As you can see, the landscape has changed significantly, especially for Internet Explorer. A potential reason for Internet Explorer's loss was the lack of competitive pressure due to tight integration with the Windows operating system. It lead to stagnation and a lack of innovation. For instance, tabbed browsing (the ability to open multiple pages within one window) wasn't implemented until IE7 in 2006. In contrast, Opera had the feature 6 years prior, and Firefox had the feature in 2004. Implementation of standards were also slower, leading to a decline in users once people learned that there were alternatives that gave them a better web experience. However, Microsoft has recently taken a more serious approach to its browser offering, and may be able to win back some of their lost market share.
The Decline of Internet Explorer
Google Chrome is currently dominating the browser market by quite a margin. Though it's hard to get completely accurate stats, it's possible to determine trends from multiple sources. One of the reasons people switched away from Internet Explorer was increased security in other browsers. The Mozilla foundation behind Firefox offer up to $3000 and a t-shirt for finding bugs in the browser (known as bug bounties) and Google offer anywhere between $500 and $50,000 depending on the severity of the bug. This is an important factor as it rewards people for finding vulnerabilities and not disclosing them to the public.
Microsoft, unfortunately, has a poor track record when it comes to fixing vulnerabilities. One notable example was a vulnerability in the .ANI format Windows uses for loading animated cursors. This was what was known as a “remote code execution” vulnerability, one of the most dangerous kinds where a hacker can inject and execute program code (such as a trojan or malware). Microsoft was informed of the bug in December 2006, which could be exploited by visiting any page, but took 100 days to release a fix. Several security companies released patches of their own in the time taken, but the Microsoft patch had not been released until the vulnerability was already being exploited.
However, in recent years Microsoft has changed tactics. Internet Explorer 11, while not perfect, was a significant improvement from prior versions. Improved support for HTML5 features, speed and the addition of “Developer Tools” (a feature that allows inspecting the page and getting feedback, something that existed in other browsers for a long period of time). This isn't where Microsoft's change in strategy ends however. A new project known as “Spartan” that uses a new layout engine and has abandoned many of the Microsoft-specific features such as ActiveX. As a result, it will still be bundled with Internet Explorer for aspects requiring IE-specific functionality. By integrating with new Microsoft technologies, like its cloud storage engine OneTouch and Personal Assistant technology Cortana, Spartan is a new type of browser and could be a game changer.
Firefox Usage Share Drops
Another noticeable trend in the data is people moving away from Firefox as their primary browser. From its peak in 2009 where it occupied the top browser spot, it has dwindled to its current market share. Most of the share has been lost to Chrome for a lot of reasons, such as:
- Firefox being considered too memory hungry or “clunky”
- For more casual users, the UI is more polished. While Firefox offers more customization the default appearance and functionality is less so.
- Better developer tools
- Firefox moving its default search engine to Yahoo
What to Expect From Browsers in 2015
Improved Adoptions of Standards
Not all the browser versions have yet adopted and implemented all the new abilities standardized through the World Wide Web Consortium. For instance, while most browsers have fully implemented 3D transformations of page elements (rotating an image in 3D), Internet Explorer 11 has yet to fully implement them.
Less Flash, More HTML5 Video
Although Flash was the default for putting video footage on the internet until now, it is slowly declining in popularity as the HTML5 <video> tag takes over more of content delivery, with Flash as a fallback. The reason this hasn't happened sooner is that there are several competing video formats, but the video tag does allow supplying different formats of video which can be combined with browser detection.