Today, Microsoft is hosting a special event in San Francisco to officially launch the public beta of Internet Explorer 9. It will be many months–probably about a year–before IE9 is out of beta and becomes the official flagship Web browser from Microsoft, but you can expect that when it does it will crush the browser competition.
Here is the thing, whether you love it or hate it, Internet Explorer has a dominant stake in the Web browser market. Sure, it has declined sharply from its once virtual monopoly, but it seems to have reached a new equilibrium with competing browsers, and has been gaining again in recent months.
Firefox came onto the scene nearly six years ago. It has managed to drive innovation and raise the bar for Web browsing in many ways–implementing features that leapfrogged Internet Explorer and forcing Microsoft to recognize its own mortality in the browser market. Firefox succeeded in stealing IE market share, but it still has less than 25 percent and has been stagnant or declining.
Google’s Chrome Web browser has only been around for two years. It is the refreshing new kid on the block and has garnered most of the media attention. Despite the hype, though, Chrome is a distant third with less than eight percent of the browser market. While Chrome has also whittled away at IE, the fractional percent gains have not amounted to much. Chrome is primarily stealing its market share from Firefox.
Taking out the pure anti-Microsoft crowd who bash anything from Redmond and embrace any technology that isn’t Microsoft, there are still valid cases to be made for how or why competing browsers are better. However, those cases are fleeting–as the various browsers innovate and leapfrog each other–and they are often subjective–amounting to little more than personal opinion and choice.
Many have (and will continue to) argued that Microsoft’s dominance of the Web browser market is purely a result of leveraging its virtual monopoly of the desktop operating system and bundling its Web browser with Windows. However, that doesn’t explain why IE8 had 20 percent of the browser market before Windows 7 even launched, or why IE8 has only scraped up another ten percent or so since then despite the skyrocketing success of Windows 7.
IE8 continues to lead all Web browsers, and month after month achieves a higher growth rate than competing browsers–extending the gap further as time goes on. With IE9, Microsoft has completely redesigned the browser, and expanded the capabilities to embrace the next generation of Web technologies.
Is Internet Explorer the best browser available? Sometimes, and in some ways, and for some people. There is no real “right” answer to that quasi-religious debate. The reality, though, is that Internet Explorer is good enough and that the Microsoft brand is strong enough to maintain its dominance for the foreseeable future.
Web developers and IT admins should pay close attention to the IE9 beta. It raises the bar for Web browsing and before you know it, it will be the number one Web browser on the market.