Microsoft essentially pushed the internet browser pioneers Netscape out of business by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows – the massively dominant desktop OS back in the 90s (Apple and Linux were almost rounding errors by comparison). This situation left Microsoft with the power to direct the development of the web, but as their profit-making business was still based on selling software (Windows and Office), they simply let Internet Explorer stagnate – making life difficult for web developers as the browser was not close to standards compliant, and holding back progress on the web. Step up Mozilla and Firefox.
Firefox brought open source software to the consumer, along with tabbed browsing, add-ons, and a whole host of other features now considered standard across all web browsers. It stood alone as the only real alternative to Internet Explorer for years, and it was Firefox that brought a renewed focus on speed, security, and standards compliance to web browsers. The modern browser wars are a three-way race (or even five-way if you include Opera and Apple’s Safari), with Internet Explorer use continuing its decline to around 30%, Firefox is remaining roughly steady at about 30%, and Google’s own Chrome browser, originally based on Safari’s open source Webkit engine and now the official offshoot of the open source Chromium browser, has rapidly risen to 30% in its short three-year history.
Microsoft with Internet Explorer, Apple with Safari, and Google with Chrome all build these browsers so that they can get users to make use of their other services with which they makes profits – whether that is through search, or media sales – and they benefit from user lock-in. This isn’t an issue most of the time, and as a user of a vast variety of Google’s services on a daily basis out of choice these tie-ins actually make my life easier right now. However, the future is never so certain and if one browser manages to gain dominance in the web browser sphere then the company with its services locked-in to that browser may start to slow progress and let the browser stagnate. A stagnant dominant browser slows development of the web and slow technological progress on the wider scale – and it will be the open source Firefox that will prevent this situation from happening. Corporations come and go, but open source will remain if there is a need.