Browser Wars: The Saga Continues - InformationWeek
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Browser Wars: The Saga Continues

Ever since Netscape took on Mosaic in 1994, companies have been duking it out for domination in the browser marketplace. We relive the biggest and best of the great browser battles.

In the beginning was WorldWideWeb. Developed by Tim Berners-Lee, the world's first Web browser was developed on and written specifically for the NeXT platform -- in other words, it was not something many people could take advantage of.

Other browsers soon followed -- www, Erwise, Midas, ViolaWWW, Cello, and more. But the browser that really kick-started the Web was Mosaic, released in 1993. Written by Mark Andreessen and Eric Bina at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Mosaic was the first Web browser to successfully integrate text and graphics in the same window. Although originally written for the Unix platform, the browser was soon translated into Mac and Windows versions, making the Web accessible to a broad audience. Users began flocking to the Web, and Mosaic was the best way to get there.

Mosaic opened the Web to a vast new audience. Courtesy of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

Round 1: Netscape Navigator vs. Mosaic
Shortly after releasing Mosaic, Andreessen quit working at NCSA to form Mosaic Communications Corp. NCSA fought for the Mosaic name, however, and Andreessen's new company was renamed Netscape Communications. At the same time, NCSA licensed the Mosaic technology and trademarks to companies such as Spry and Spyglass to create commercial versions of Mosaic.

In 1994, Netscape released a new browser called Netscape Navigator, and the browser wars were on. Fast, stable, and feature-rich, Netscape Navigator quickly became the de facto standard for Web browsing. In 1994 and 1995, the upper-case N denoting the Netscape browser could be found on Internet-connected desktops everywhere. Mosaic in all its iterations quickly began to fade.

Netscape reigned supreme in 1994 and 1995.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

The Winner: Netscape Navigator

Round 2: Internet Explorer 1.0/2.0 vs. Netscape Navigator 1.0/2.0
When it became clear that the World Wide Web was becoming a vital part of popular culture, Microsoft decided it was time to enter the Internet fray. Rather than start from scratch, Microsoft licensed browser technology from Spyglass. Thus, the foundation for Internet Explorer was none other than Mosaic, the browser formerly dethroned by Netscape.

The August 1995 release of Internet Explorer 1.0 set off a series of contentious battles and feature escalation between the two browsers, but a major factor in IE's growth was accessibility. Prior to IE's release, tracking down and installing a Web browser was no easy task for everyday PC users: Ensuring dial-up compatibility and configuring TCP/IP functionality involved a fair amount of technical expertise. By bundling its browser with the easy-to-install Plus! Pack Add-On for Windows 95, Microsoft rapidly developed a following for IE.

Internet Explorer was released as an add-on to Windows 95. Courtesy of Microsoft. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, its fledgling browser loaded Web pages much more slowly than Netscape. Furthermore, IE 1.0 was not 100-percent compatible with many Web sites, as many Web developers were primarily concerned with ensuring Netscape compatibility.

15 Years Of The World Wide Web


 WWW: Past, Present, And Future

 Browser Wars: The Saga Continues

      •  Rounds 1 & 2

      •  Rounds 3 & 4

      •  Rounds 5 & 6

 The Skinny On Web 2.0

 WWW Pop-Up Timeline

 Browser Image Gallery

In response, Microsoft rapidly released a new 2.0 iteration of Internet Explorer a mere three months after the debut of IE 1.0. This hasty revision added several features aimed at improving developer efficiency and decreasing consumers' concerns about security. The Secure Sockets Layer, for example, was an important cryptographic protocol that provided secure data communications. The browser also included an integrated Usenet newsgroup reader.

Netscape took IE 2.0's rushed release as a clear sign of aggression, and the company rapidly began to make revisions to Navigator. Andreessen's browser, which was still faster, more functional, and better able to display most Web sites, maintained a significant market-share advantage over IE, but the pressure was on. And Netscape's fortune would soon change.

The Winner: Netscape Navigator

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