With all this talk of web-based apps, it's easy to forget there's still a battle going on for the browser platform - upon which most of the 'Web 2.0' apps run. Firefox will be releasing its 1.5 version later this week, accompanied by a marketing campaign to convince users of other browsers to switch. Also a new PCWorld article gives us a glimpse of the next version of Microsoft's market-leading browser, Internet Explorer 7.0. IE7 won't be released to the general public until early next year, so PCWorld's tests are all we have to go on for now. They compared Internet Explorer 7 Beta 1, Firefox 1.5 Release Candidate 1, and Opera 9 Preview 1.
"With version 7 of Internet Explorer, Microsoft's developers have seriously overhauled the browser, giving it popular features such as tabbed browsing, as well as improved security, thus closing the gap between it and its rivals."
However they also report that "many of its new features still don't match functionality already present in the other browsers." For example the tab feature that Firefox users have been using for the past year "works in only a basic way" in IE7 beta 1. Plus according to PCWorld the RSS functionality in IE7 isn't as good as Firefox.
It's no surprise to hear that IE7's layout will look "more like its rivals", because Microsoft has always been a follower and not a leader in browser innovation. That's all they need to be, given their dominance in the browser market.
IE has been losing ground to Firefox over the past year and most tech bloggers (including me) report a higher percentage of Firefox than IE users. However in the mass market, IE is still by far the dominant browser. According to Web analytics company OneStat.com, as of late October 2005 almost 81 percent of Americans used IE, 14 percent used Firefox, and only a small percentage used Opera, Netscape, and all other browsers combined.
It's interesting to note that PCWorld thinks Firefox won't be delivering much in the way of innovation in 2006. They say that IE, Firefox, and Opera "will all have similar features and similar, tight interfaces" by the time IE7 rolls out next year. Of course Firefox offers a host of add-ons and extensions, but most non-technical users won't go to the trouble of customizing their browser that way. So we need to look at smaller and newer browsers, such as Flock, for out-of-the-box innovation in the coming year. Flock's challenge is to convince mainstream people to change their browsing paradigm.
What do you think? Will Microsoft continue to dominate the browser market, or will Firefox, Opera, Flock or a new entrant make serious inroads to IE's market share?