It has been a while since Browser Wars, Episode I took place on an IT planet near you. To refresh your memory, what happened again?
In the early days of the internet, Netscape was the main provider of browser software. There was little competition. That changed when Microsoft started shipping its own browser, Internet Explorer, with its Windows operating system. As every computer came with IE pre-installed, there was not much reason to download an alternative browser, such as Netscape. To make matters worse, Netscape decided to rewrite their software from scratch again. Because of that, it to took a couple of years before a new version of it would be released. By that time time, Netcape open sourced its browser’s code (as “Mozilla”:http://www.mozilla.org) in order to speed up development. IE had a 95%+ market share by then.
But for a while now, development of IE kind of seems to have stalled. The last major release of IE, IE 6, didn’t add that much functionality on top of IE 5 and IE 5.5. Not in functionality for the user, at least. The Mozilla project however launched a lightweight version of its browser software, dubbed Phoenix. It was in very early stages of development but felt quite native on most operating systems and had some nice features, such as tabbed browsing, a google search box and nice extention capabilities. Later Phoenix’ name changed to Firebird and more recently it became Firefox. Version 1.0 of Firefox is to be released this fall and the preview version of 1.0 got “a million downloads in 100 hours”:http://www.spreadfirefox.com/?q=node/view/875.
Apparantly more and more people take the leap of downloading alternative browser software and are no longer happy with IE. This is partly because of the lack of new features, but also because of the numerous security issues in IE in the past. And to make matters worse Microsoft has announced that IE 7 will only be available to people using Windows XP SP2 (and most likely Windows 2003). So, if you want to take advantage of new browser versions and you run an older version of Windows, you have no other choice than to turn to an alternative browser.
I have been a happy Mozilla user for quite a while now. I started using Mozilla when it was at version 0.6. A couple of months ago I switched to Phoenix/Firebird/Firefox, and a couple of days ago I downloaded the 1.0 preview release. I must say that it has improved a lot over the last period. It now even has some minor RSS support. My favourite feature still is the middle-click on a link that opens the page on a new tab on the background. I use that all the time.