Browser battle becomes guerilla war

Some would say that Internet Explorer has won the battle of the browsers - but that would be to ignore the excellent work being done by its rivals

The browser war is apparently over. It's just that nobody's told alternative browser developers yet.

I've recently been playing around with Mozilla Firefox, the latest release of Mozilla's browser client. Now, there are some would ask why anyone would bother with a Net browser that isn't Internet Explorer -- hasn't the browser war already been fought and won?

Internet Explorer, the pundits tell us, accounts for anything up to 95 percent of all Web browser traffic; isn't that enough for anyone to admit defeat, give up and get on with it?

Well, not this little black duck, and certainly there are enough alternative browser users out there to make Opera profitable, Mozilla supported and Safari fiercely defended by the Apple crowd -- not that the Apple crowd ever defends anything Apple-esque with anything but ferocious fervor, of course.

If anything, the browser war has moved onto another phase; it's now a browser guerrilla war. There's a danger in fighting a guerrilla war, and that's a solid adherence to resistance purely for the sake of resistance.

If you want a case lesson in adherence to guerrilla fighting to the point of exhaustion, you should look no further than the one Japanese soldier whose story I never forget. Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was stationed on Lubang, a small island about 120km southwest of the Philippines in the closing days of World War Two. Onoda and his small force of four warriors were trained guerrilla fighters, and Onoda was given the order of preventing enemy attack on Lubang, no matter how long it took. He was forbidden to die by his own hand, and more or less cut off from communication with the outside world.

The end result of this was that some thirty years later, Onoda was still fighting the Pacific war, albeit on a much smaller scale than it had previously been. His force of four men had variously been wounded, captured and then set free, or killed outright, but it was only when Onoda's commanding officer was located and presented to Onoda that he'd actually believe it was all over. In the meantime Japanese society had changed to a level that Onoda found difficult to adapt to. He'd also been declared legally dead, which presumably would make getting a driver's licence a real pain.

Onoda's story makes for a great conversational anecdote about the dangers of fanaticism, and, depending on your mindset, the dangers of or the commitment implicit in the military mindset. I'm also sure if you asked Microsoft, they'd probably chuckle and say that developers of alternate browsers were probably on a very Onoda-like path.

I think, however, that there are some fundamental differences in the browser version of the guerrilla war, aside from all that business about shooting people and living off roast lizard and bananas for three decades.

Those using alternative browsers are admittedly in the minority, but it's at this edge of browser development that the really interesting things are starting to happen in the Net surfing space. I can quickly and easily rattle off a small avalanche of features that Firefox supports that are just plain missing in Internet Explorer. Once I'd gotten used to them being there, having them missing in IE (which I have to use for certain work functions) is something that constantly grates.

When Microsoft was in the catch-up position relative to Netscape, every new release of IE was given a lot of prominence, with every little new feature given the appropriate PR shine and every little hook stuck further into the core Windows code base -- at least that's the way Microsoft tells it. In recent years, however, I've not seen much in IE that wasn't really there several years ago -- bug fixes notwithstanding -- while browsers such as Firefox, Opera and Safari have looked towards smaller, leaner and more standards-compliant browsers.

You could make the argument that by holding so much of the browser market, IE and its custom coding is by default the standard, but I think that's a sad position to be in, especially when you consider that IE still doesn't stop pop-up ads (to throw up just one example) by default. These days I only ever see pop-ups when I request them, or when (shudder) I have to use IE. If you're a non-Windows user, you've only got the Mac version of IE to keep to the MS "standard", and all my previous experiences with that IE version made me like it even less than the Windows version.

For more coverage on ZDNet Australia, click here.

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