Battle of the Browsers

Ayla Dillis
4 min readAug 3, 2020

Today ‘searching it online’ and ‘Googling it’ are virtually the same thing, Google is the most used and well-known web browser to date however it wasn’t always like that. In the late ’90s and early 2000s a competitive war between the browsers was fought to see who would hold the most market shares and rule the World Wide Web.

It all started on Christmas Day back in 1990 when an English engineer and computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee who worked at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, released the World Wide Web and from that moment on the battle of the browsers began! A year later in 1991 Unix released ViolaWWW, the first web browser to be popularized on the World Wide Web and the recommended browser at CERN. However at this time, the World Wide Web was only available on NeXTSTEP and Unix, both multitasking, multi-user computer operating systems which were not very accessible to the everyday person. For example, the average person at the time had a Macintosh or Windows computer at home which cost around $1,899 in 1991 ($3,609 in 2020) whereas a NeXT workstation could cost around $6,500 (equivalent to $12,115 today).

In 1993 an Illinois University college student named Marc Andreeson created the web browser Spyglass Mosaic which gained rapid popularity because it could be used on a Mac or Windows computer. Mosaic brought the World Wide Web into the homes of the everyday person. By 1994 Andreeson and a team of his University buddies built another better browser called Netscape Communication later renamed Netscape Navigator, this new browser quickly became a competitor to Spyglass Mosaic. Netscape Navigator was internally named Mozilla, a portmanteau of the two words ‘Mosaic’ and ‘Killer’, the new browser became available to the public for free and by 1996 Mozilla had well over the majority of the market share. Netscape had a foundation of JavaScript, Frame, and Cookies that became the standard for other browsers and lead the way for online content.

In order to keep up with the competition Microsoft built a browser called Internet Explorer modeled after Netscape’s browser, eventually, the two became identical except IE came with Windows, because of this none took the time to install Netscape squeezing them out of the competition. In 1998 an antitrust case against Microsoft was filed, United States v Microsoft Corp lasted until the end of 2001 and resulted in Microsoft being able to stay together. Because of the fierce competition Netscape’s market share had been destroyed and was bought out by AOL.

Internet Explorer released IE6 in 2001 and was dominating the market, the competition had faded away and they slowed down on updates, the next IE update wasn’t scheduled until the next year and the one after that in another two years. They had stopped competitively innovating which would ultimately lead to IE’s demise. Back in 2001 right before Netscape was acquired by AOL they released a new code for the Mozilla browser, it was sloppy but they had a road map for rewriting it. Part of Mozilla’s innovation was implementing the NG (next generation) Layout, a web rendering engine renamed Gecko that was faster and took up a tenth of the required memory. However, all of these mods delayed the browser’s release. In 2002 Mozilla Phoenix was released but quickly changed its name to Mozilla Firefox (a nickname for the red Panda) All of Firefox’s new features helped it gain popularity and eat away at IE’s market shares.

A 1997 agreement with Microsoft ensured that Internet Explorer was installed as the default browser on all Macs forcing the browser into use; however, this agreement only lasted 5 years until MAC OS 10.2 was released. With the contract no longer in effect, Mac announced that Safari would become the default browser, therefore making Safari a major competitor to EI. Mozilla’s rise to success began in the early 2000s and at the same time another giant was rising, as early as 2004 Google began hiring former Mozilla and IE employees and building their browser. Google is known for its minimal sleek browser interface and as of 2008 Google Chrome rose to be the most popular browser on the web surpassing Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer’s few and far between updates and as well as the competition from Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla destroyed the 95% market shareholdings IE6 had. IE’s stigma of being out of date and old prompted Microsoft to completely rewrite the browser, the reinvented version was renamed Edge and is now included with the Microsoft download. Internet Explorer currently holds 1–5% of market shares however its days are numbered as newer more competitive browsers continue to enter the market and the browser war continues.