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Let the Browser Wars begin


Firefox 2.0 is almost here, and Microsoft is expected to start pushing out Internet Explorer 7 to users via the Windows Automatic Update software-distribution mechanism by year’s end. In short, the browser wars are about to begin again.

Depending on whose numbers you believe, Firefox has been continuing to erode IE’s (Internet Explorer’s) lead.

According to Janco Associates, Internet Explorer has continued to lose market share in 2006. It bottomed out to 75.88 percent share in July, which was down from 77.01 percent in January, and from 84.05 in July of 2005., meanwhile, reported earlier this week that the global usage share of IE has grown to 85.85 percent. That’s a jump of 2.8 percent since July, by their counting. Firefox, on the other hand, is at 11.49 percent, a decrease of 1.44 percent since the web analytics specialist reported its July data. The rest of IE’s gain came at the expense of Opera and the other browsers.

NetApplications, however, sees a very different picture. According to Ars Technica’s reporting, IE hit a two-year low at 82.10 percent in September, while Firefox grew to a 12.46 percent market share. Safari, the Mac OS X browser, came in third with 3.53 percent.

As for Linux and browsers, DesktopLinux’s recent survey of Linux users found that Mozilla’s Firefox browser dominates the field. Firefox came in with 58.2 percent usage, followed by Konqueror at 16.3 percent, and Opera at 12 percent. Of all the other browsers, only Mozilla, at 4.7 percent and Epiphany, GNOME’s default browser, at 2.7 percent, grabbed more than 2 percent of the users.

With new browser versions coming out from both Mozilla and Microsoft in the coming weeks, however, we can expect to see dramatic changes in the overall browser market.

Both browsers face challenges of their own. IE 7 is already causing, as Windows technical writer and editor John Mueller puts it, “developer heartburn.” That’s because many of the changes will break existing IE applications.

In particular, Mueller notes that the change in how ActiveX controls are handled “is going to break many applications; everything from shopping carts to data collaboration.” Another potential problem is that some IE developers have also been dragging their feet in getting ready for IE 7.

As for Firefox, the recent rebellion of some open-source developers over the use of the Firefox trademarked name and icon has resulted in a fork, IceWeasel. This split has been led largely by Debian Linux developers.

Not everyone who is pro-Debian has cared for what they see as a totally unneeded fork. Indeed, Ian Murdoch, the founder of Debian and head of the Linux Standard Base, said, “This is so maddeningly stupid I’m embarrassed to be even remotely associated with this.”

Problems and all, though, the new browsers are on their way. Will Firefox 2 continue to dominate outside of Windows, and eat away at IE 7’s lead within Windows? With big changes from both browsers on the way, it’s too early to tell.

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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