Long Live the Browser Wars!

Google recently announced that it was going to strip cookies from its Chrome web-browser.

This is a big deal for a lot of people, namely advertisers.

In case you weren’t aware of what a cookie is (not the yummy kind you eat), let Digital Batman tell you. A cookie is a bit of third-party data that gets stored on your system when you access a website. This data is used to track your online activities such as product browsing history, location, etc. Advertisers can then use this data to target ads specifically to what they think you’re interested in.

And furthermore, advertisers can “retarget” ads after you as you browse around the Internet from site to site. Ever wonder how a random website you visit seems to know that you were looking at plushy chairs on Amazon? Well, that’s retargeting and that’s powered by cookies.

Which leads to a lot of privacy issues that have been debated for as long as the Internet has been around.

Therefore, Google is trying to assuage users’ concerns about privacy by eliminating cookies.

What will advertisers do?

Well, they’ll probably have to come up with more transparent ways to gather your information, with your permission.

Now I mention this because it reminds me about how things have both changed and remained the same over the last 25+ years of browsing the Internet.

Back in the heyday of the World Wide Web (mid-to-late 1990s), we had a whole battlefield of web browsers all vying for dominance in The Browser Wars!

It all started with Netscape Navigator (technically Mosaic in its initial form), invented by Marc Andreessen founder of Netscape. [Digital Batman had done a previous Progressive Pioneers profile on Andreessen back in July.]

Navigator was initially released in December of 1994. It sported a simple interface with a few oversized navigation buttons (like Back, Home, and Reload), and some featured buttons (like Welcome, What’s New, and Net Search)—see image.

And as for webpages, well, they were weren’t the visual masterpieces that you see today. They were mostly text-based. A great example of this was shown in the 2019 Marvel film Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers (A.K.A. Captain Marvel) goes to an Internet Café (remember those?) and does some research. She’s using a late 1990s version of Navigator with Alta-Vista as the search engine (now defunct and owned by Yahoo).

Needless to say, that scene got a lot of chuckles.

Anyway, Netscape was king of the browser hill for a couple of years. And the Netscape Communicator Suite (that came out a few years later) was a huge corporate communications staple during the booming startups of the Dot-Com days—especially because it was mostly free!

The suite contained the following productivity programs:

  • Navigator (web browser)
  • Messenger (email client)
  • Collabra (news client)
  • Composer (HTML editor)
  • Netcaster (push client)
  • Conference (conference client)
  • Calendar (enterprise calendar)

All of these components are staples of today’s modern office environment and corporate enterprises. For example, Microsoft SharePoint, is not so dissimilar from CollabraMS Outlook is an office mainstay that no one could live without, just like Netscape Messenger and Calendar was. There are a ton of Composer-like HTML editors to choose from, such as WordPress (that The Tenth Sphere is built with), Joomla, Drupal, and Sitecore to name a few. Netcaster kind of reminds me of the aforementioned cookies and retargeting capabilities of modern-day Google and inbound/push digital marketing. And between SkypeWebex, and Microsoft Teams, we have virtual meetings just like the old days with Netscape Conference.

Netscape was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. Probably the lack of bandwidth, slow processing power of computers during the 90s/2000-aughts, poor graphics capabilities, and lack of interest/experience led to the quick demise of the whole Communicator Suite.

As for Navigator alone, it got seriously challenged and defeated by new contenders such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer/IE (1995), Opera (1996), KDE Konqueror (2000), MS IE for Mac (2001, before Apple got smart and made Safari), a reborn version of Navigator called Mozilla Phoenix (2002), Safari (2003), Mozilla Firefox (2004), and finally Google Chrome (2008).

Many of these browsers were cross-platform (like IE and Safari). Some even functioned on niche platforms like Linux and BeOS.

Like an arms race, each new browser that came on the scene offered a new feature that the others were sure to emulate like Tabbed Browsing, HTML 5 support, and built-in search from the address bar.

Today, only a handful of browsers have survived the Browser Wars, namely Microsoft Edge (borne out of the ashes of IE for Windows 10+), Safari (that runs on the most recent Apple/Mac-proprietary hardware only), Firefox, and Google Chrome. The latter two run on multiple platforms.

Chrome also has the advantage of being directly tied-in to the Google online eco-system of productivity tools, such as Google DocsGoogle Drive, and Google Hangouts/Meet.

MS Edge is purported to have tighter integration with Windows 10 computers and enterprise intranet systems such as SharePoint.

Safari for Windows was discontinued around mid-2012. It solely exits on macos (i.e. the operating systems for Mac computers) and for all iOS devices (like iPhones and iPads)—and is tightly integrated with these Apple OSes. Safari versions do not have long lives for web browsing; they need to be continuously updated and frequently will outlive the hardware that you are using—kind of pushing you to upgrade your macos and iOS devices every few years.

Mozilla Firefox has the singular advantage of being the only open source browser on this list. As an open source product, Firefox has benefited from the contributions of a large number of developers who have helped identify and resolve bugs and create new features and add-ons.

So are the Browser Wars truly over?

That depends.

As more and more specialized apps for mobile devices and computers become available (all interconnected with each other, other devices, and the Internet, referred to as the Internet of Things or IoT), there may come a day soon when every app is its own browser.

In other words, the IoT may soon become the newest battlefield in long-standing Browser Wars.

Netscape Navigator 1.0 (1994)
MS Internet Explorer/IE 1.0 (1995)
Opera 2.0 (1996)
KDE Konqueror (2000)
MS IE 5 for Mac (2001)
Mozilla Phoenix 0.1 (2002)
Apple Safari (2003)
Mozilla Firefox 1.0 (2004)
Google Chrome (2008)