How did we rediscover competition in Web browsers?

We finally have competition again in Web browsers, but what did we do to achieve this?

Reading through The Wall Street Journal's interview with Mozilla chair Mitchell Baker, I was struck by her suggestion that (gasp!) we finally have a competitive browser market again:

I would say there's a real active back and forth now in core performance, JavaScript performance [between competing browsers]....[T]here's no question that having competition in that space pushes us even faster than we would push ourselves....

Of course, that's not comfortable. It will be uncomfortable when there's some feature and we say wow, we should really have that too, but it's also the case that--this happens in browsers all the time now--that maybe it's a counting coup metaphor to having a feature first, but the real piece is not always who has a feature first, but who's able to take an idea and put it into a product in a way that helps most consumers. That's not always first. Sometimes you need iteration on a feature to really get it right.

I suppose the truly intriguing thing is not that we have a competitive market for Web browsers again, but how it happened. Baker told me recently that Firefox is "an anomaly" because it managed to beat back overwhelming Microsoft market share. Can we do it again?

What was the tipping point when Microsoft's Internet Explorer team finally had to start paying attention to Mozilla's Firefox browser? And when did Google decide that it couldn't subsist on Firefox's roadmap and instead had to forge its own browser, Chrome?

Was it when Firefox hit 10-percent market share? If so, maybe we're set to have real competition in the personal computer market again, as Apple is straining toward 10-percent market share in personal computer operating systems, and some speculate that Google won't be far behind with an Ubuntu Linux-based netbook.

Or was it a lower number? Whatever that number, or whatever the cause, we need to seek to replicate it in different industries where a dominant player has calcified its position. The browser market is vigorous and healthy right now.

The Web browser market is innovating, and not merely in terms of performance and new features, but also in terms of changes in the user experience, some of which take time to appreciate, as Mozilla CEO John Lilly has discovered with left-hand-situated tabs.

This is how a healthy market acts. In such a market, one vendor doesn't rule them all. In such a market, competitors iterate new features and constantly one-up each other.

How can we get more markets like that?


Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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