NetApplications just released their November browser market share report so there's been a lot of talk about how the browsers are stacking up and where things are moving. I blogged some about this earlier in the week.
Clearly IE is falling, and at a pretty good clip. Does this mean that the browser wars have really heated up again with half a dozen exciting and capable browsers all duking it out for the top spot? That's sure what it sounds like if you read the tech pundits, bloggers, and journalists. The storyline that seems to be central to all the reporting and discussion of the competitive landscape is that it's totally thriving with IE releasing new versions much more frequently but still losing ground to Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, and a handful of other challengers.
For a web developer, this makes perfect sense. People building web sites and web applications are looking at all the browsers hitting their properties and writing and optimizing for the top user agents they're seeing in their logs.
For bloggers, pundits, and journalists, the browser makers are pushing out new alphas and betas at such an amazing pace it feels like it's almost a daily event. Add to that the blow by blow coverage of the awesome battle for performance supremacy and Web standards support, and you've got a real hotbed of excitement.
But for regular people, I don't think any of this is registering at all. For most regular people, there are just two browsers, the one that came on their machine and Firefox.
What does this look like. Well, if you're on Windows, there's Internet Explorer (the default that came with your PC) and there's Firefox. If you're on Mac, there's Safari (the default that came with your Mac) and there's Firefox. One default and one alternative.
Data from December 2007 - November 2008 via NetApplications. Click images for larger views.
That's not exactly an exciting, vibrant, and red-hot marketplace. Now, that's a whole lot better than it was just four or five years ago when there was really only one browser and that browser was completely stagnant. But when you look at this from the viewpoint of a regular person sitting down to her computer, it's far from ideal.
Clearly there's a huge advantage to shipping with the computer as the default browser. Four years of amazing grass-roots marketing and word-of-mouth outreach, combined with a world-class product has accomplished more than anyone in the early days of Mozilla and Firefox would dare to imagine, but we're in an uphill battle because we're fighting not just against the other browsers out there today, but against the growth of the internet itself in a market where every new computer comes with a bundled browser from the OS vendor.
This is not the healthy marketplace that many imagine it to be. This is not the level playing field that 1 billion (and growing) Internet users deserve.
I don't have much more to say with this post but I wanted to re-open this discussion and see what you all think. Is it reasonable that the OS vendors dominate their platforms like this? Is one viable competitor to the OS vendors enough? Is it a vibrant, strong, and healthy environment when the tier two browsers are all fighting over the remaining one or two percent?