In September 1997, Microsoft's brave launch of a new-generation Internet Explorer 4.0 dragged browser tycoon Netscape -- which had boasted 2/3 of market share -- into war. Eventually, Netscape met its doom and Internet Explorer survived as the winner.
Will history repeat itself?
The recent row between UC Web, a leading mobile browser in China, and QQ Mobile Browser by Tencent, China's most powerful internet company, was reminiscent of the story.
UC has been focusing on mobile browser development over the past few years. Its product, UC Web, has been very popular among China's medium-and-lower-end mobile phone users, who would rather abandon Apps and use browsers to visit HTML and WAP websites. Indeed, UC Web had claimed a higher market share than any other mobile browser in China by the first half of this year.
But its leading role has been challenged as Tencent sneaked into mobile browser market. UC Internet browser as the single-product company whether able to keep rapid develops reminds us the past PC browser company - Netscape.
And the battle started with the vying for market share. Recently, Tencent sent an email to UC partners that states, "QQ Mobile Browser is No.1 by both market share and functionality."
In a prompt response, Yu Yongfu, CEO of the UC company, quickly held a press conference, accusing Tencent of manipulating fake report, saying "Tencent misled the fact that UC Web has secured a top place in China's mobile browser market, and tries to hunt partners away from UC. "
While it has been unclear whether Microsoft had beat Netscape by bundling IE, such things as a multi-product player win a single-product rival could also happen in China.
"An independent mobile browser, like an independent PC browser, could be very unlikely to achieve business expansion without the support of other resources," said Hong Bo, a Chinese Internet observer.
Last year, Zheng Quanzhan, the president of Tencent Research Institute, stated, "We have many advantages over UC Web. It started off earlier, but we do not worry at all. We do not have any technical obstacles in our way, and we have a company with powerful interactive elements. The interactive element to which Zheng refers is Tencent QQ huge user group.
Tencent QQ is the most-used Instant Messaging tool in China. According to the company's third-quarter report 2011, it has 711.7 million active users. So far, Tencent has launched a successful campaign in promoting its other products by bundling them with QQ client software. Taking advantage of the powerful QQ platform, Tencent's download tool, multimedia player and IME tool have spread like a contagion despite their delayed emergence.
That's why Tencent has been dubbed as "a killer of entrepreneurial internet companies."
But UC still could have a 1% chance to fight back--to beat Tencent with excellent products.
Netscape was not ousted from the market simply due to Microsoft's IE bundling. The lack of product innovation had been one of the key factors that finally led to its fall.
A telling evidence to this was that several innovative late-comers like Firefox、Chrome、safari、Opera continues to thrive in today's market.
According to statistics from a well-known web analytics firm Net Applications, as of June 2011, IE grabbed 54.27% of market share, while other browsers shared the rest. The market has a place held for outstanding products.
Tencent president Zheng Quanzhan spoke highly about Google's browser tactic, saying "A browser can provide many things for its users. A case in point is Google's 'PC strategy': With its Android and Chrome holding passage ways, it can promote almost anything. A browser is like a App Store. "
In China's internet arena, few could fight a winning battle against Tencent. Yet many entrepreneurs have expected UC to win so that it could paint a brighter future for them.
But could UC, with neither Google's strength nor its strategies, live up to such an expectation?
Probably only time will tell.