Netscape introduced most of major features that define a modern web browser as we know it in 1994. That same year Bill Gates announced “I see little commercial potential for the Internet for at least ten years.” Just one year later, his viewpoint had changed – as documented in a company memo: “The Internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules. It is an incredible opportunity as well as incredible challenge.”
Netscape commanded 85% of the market in 1995, when Microsoft Internet Explorer was introduced. By 1998 Internet Explorer captured 50% of the browser market share and 95% by 2004.
Netscape, acquired by AOL in 1998, disbanded in 2003. Netscape founded the Mozilla Organization in 1998 to develop an entirely new browser; in 2003 this became the non-profit Mozilla Foundation which introduced Firefox in 2004. Firefox gradually increased its market share to 32% in 2009 and has since slowly declined to 9% this year.
On September 2, 2008 Google launched Google Chrome, a new open source browser “featuring a simple user interface with a sophisticated core to enable the modern web.” Compatible with virtually every computing device and operating system, Chrome became the market leader in less than four years and today has a 64% market share – more than three times its closest competitor – Apple’s Safari.
The popularity of Internet Explorer has steadily diminished since 2009; in 2015 Microsoft introduced Microsoft Edge as a brand new default web browser for Windows 10. Early reviews concurred that Edge was an improvement over the ageing Internet Explorer, but was an incomplete product when introduced. Despite steady improvements and added features, Edge never caught on with Windows 10 users. The usage share of Edge and Internet Explorer together is currently just 6.6% – less than half that of Internet Explorer alone in 2015.
On December 6, 2018, Microsoft figuratively “threw in the towel” and formally announced it will discontinue its proprietary EdgeHTML “engine” (the software that drives the browser). Instead Microsoft will rebuild the Edge browser using the Chromium open-source project “Blink” engine developed by Google and “become a significant contributor to the open-source Chromium project” along with Google’s proprietary Chrome browser plus Vivaldi, Opera, Yandex, Brave, and a dozen more similar Chromium browsers.The Microsoft Edge brand and the bright blue “e” logo will continue. The revised Edge will run on Windows7, 8 and 10 as well as Android and macOS. There are plans to support most existing Chrome extensions. Updates will likely be offered through the new browser rather than through Windows updates. A preview release is expected in a few months, but the first official download is still “a year or so” away.
Will this effort bring Edge the prominence Internet Explorer once enjoyed? Or will Edge fade into one more footnote in internet history? Time will tell!