Monday, February 7, 2011

A Beastly Browser Market


Depending on who is doing the counting Microsoft's IE Browser is starting to drop below 50% market share for all its versions - IE9, IE8, IE7,  IE6 and IE5.
This has been long overdue since IE has been one of the worst browsers for the past 8++ years. Only now does  IE9 comes close to matching the features and  HTML+CSS+DOM standards achieved many years ago by  all of the other browsers.
Microsoft:The Borgia's of a Beastly Browser Market
Microsoft entered the browser market in 1996 with a proprietary and "perpetually" free plus "promised-to-be" standards compliant versions of IE and its IIS web server. Ye Editor uses quotes on "perpetually" because to date IE has remained free but IIS is the key feature in the more expensive Pro versions of Windows 2000, XP and Windows  7. Likewise waiting for 10++ years for IE9 to implement standards promised years ago is simply a travesty committed on the Web development community that has had to develop hacks and workarounds for deficient Microsoft IE and other web software. Unfortunately the proprietary and standards defying tradition of Microsoft appears to have spread to the wider browser development community, especially in HTML5.  The degree of fragmentation and proprietary subsystems in HTML5 is very alarming - check here for the gaps around key features like multi-touch UI, Web SQL Database, Indexed Database, Web Forms 2, SVG Inline, plus audio and video codecs.
World wide usage share of browsers for December 2010
Source - I.E. Firefox Chrome Safari Opera Mobile
Net Apps - 57.08% 22.81% 9.98% 5.89% 2.23% 3.45%
StatCounter - 46.94% 30.76% 14.85% 4.79% 2.07% 4.10%
W3Counter - 41.3% 30.3% 13.5% 5.9% 2.0%
Wikimedia - 42.12% 28.82% 11.18% 5.70% 3.67% 6.4%
Median - 44.53% 29.56% 12.34% 5.80% 2.15% 4.10%
from Wikipedia

ComputerWorld tells an intriguing  story of what is happening of late. Chrome  and Safari , whose latest versions have very fast JavaScript engines, have risen to new heights of usage. Safari appears to be propelled by increased Mac sales. But Opera continues to stay in the doldrums along with Firefox.

The Beast of Browser Usage

Since 2002 IE has had the worst browser in terms of compliance with W3C standards like HTML, DOM, and CSS. Since 2005, IE has had the weakest feature set in terms of themes, extensions and other browser conveniences. Since 2007, IE added the worst JavaScript performance to its already worst record for  JavaScript version  with omissions, non-standard compliance and proprietary extensions. Yet during this 9 year period IE has managed to retain greater than 50% marketshare.

Admittedly, IE9 is a vast improvement , especially over IE6 and IE7 for standards compliance and JavaScript performance. But the number of extensions and themes, JavaScript standards compliance, and cross platform capabilities of IE9 are distinctly worse than all the other browsers. Also, unlike the all the other browsers,  IE9 does not have a mobile version for use with iPad, Android or even its own new Windows Phone 7. Finally, unlike all the other major browsers, IE9 is not cross platform being only available for Vista and  Windows and not Windows XP or any other earlier versions of Windows.

But watch, IE9 will probably out do the Opera browser in market share when it launches later this Spring. This is very fickle because the Opera has for the past 9 years had more features, better standards compliance and now has a superior JavaScript engine which powers all of the latest Web 2 features used on most websites.

And Opera has been a pioneer in such features as mobile web browsing, touchscreen operations, gestures, and voice activation. Indeed, many of the latest new ideas will be seen on Opera first. Also the Opera  browser is free and a fast, easy down load and install. Finally, the latest Opera 11 gets very good reviews; still the Opera browser barely nudges past 3% in market share. Truly, the browser market is a strange beast as decided by fickle users when an innovative browser like Opera gets largely ignored. But even worse, with HTML5 the browser market will be fragmenting just as browsers[including  IE9 finally], reached a reasonably high standard of cross browser compliance.

HTML5 Fragmentation

Everybody and Steve Jobs are saying the new HTML5 is the way to go. Ye editor believes HTML5 is a Trojan Horse. True, there are many attractive features in HTML5 such as CSS3,  Canvas bitmap manipulations, Web Database, SVG supporting robust vector graphics, multi-touch screen operations,  offline operations and other long overdue plus other very helpful features. The problem is that full and complete implementations of the just named features among the browsers is not months but years away. This new fragmentation will set Web and mobile development back in similar fashion to the Microsoft deliberate freeze on IE features for 6 years from 2001-2006. In sum, browser development is on the cutting edge of software delivery, and as such proprietary continues to win over standards. Neil Mcallister at Infoworld echoes this sentiment. Browser usage is , and continues to be, a beast.

Summary

Ever since Microsoft entered the browser market in 1996 with a proprietary and "perpetually" free plus "promised-to-be" standards compliant versions of IE and its IIS web server[ see the sidebar for details]; the browser market has been a bete noir - a black beast of a market. Look at the evidence:
1)IE continues to control 50% market share despite being the worst browser  for 8++years;
2)Opera, one of the major browser innovators and leading browsers, is "rewarded" with a dribble, a continuing  2-3% market share;
3)Proprietary continues to win over standards based browser operations despite the clear advantage of  open and interoperable on the Web;
4) The latest move to mobile phones and tablets also marks a major fragmentation of HTML5 and other Web  standards.
So the next time you hear a Finance, Business, or Economics professor praising the efficiency and effectiveness of  business markets, ask them to explain the bete noir that is the still dysfunctioanl Web browser beast of a market.

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