Welcome to the browser jungle, Safari

Apple's Safari offers little challenge to Microsoft's browser dominance, analysts say, but the Mac maker could benefit enormously if it can wean itself from IE.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Apple Computer's Safari browser offers little challenge to Microsoft's browser dominance, analysts said Tuesday, but the Mac maker could benefit enormously if it can wean itself from Internet Explorer.

Apple's new releases are indicative of the company?s strategy to break out of its single-digit market share niche by focusing as much on software development as on the fancy hardware that drew thunderous applause from the faithful gathered here at Macworld Expo.

"Apple can only break out of its narrow (but incredibly loyal) niche in the desktop OS market if it takes charge of developing (applications such as browsers) that are tightly integrated with the platform and if it encourages many third parties--including, but not just, Microsoft--to develop apps for the platform," Jim Kobielus, a Burton Group analyst, wrote in an instant message interview.

Other analysts agreed that through its software expansion Apple might make some progress against the Microsoft juggernaut.

"If Apple can execute on this new software strategy and innovate on both the hardware and software side of the equation, they might finally be able to wrestle some market share from the Wintel camp," said Michael Gartenberg, analyst with Jupiter Research.

Whether the world needs a new browser remains to be seen. Microsoft's Internet Explorer currently is used by more than 90 percent of Web surfers, despite some minor gains in recent months with new releases from AOL Time Warner's Netscape Communications division, Norway's Opera Software, and the Netscape-backed open-source Mozilla project.

Like Opera, Apple promises faster surfing, as well as a prominently placed tool for blocking pop-up advertising. Netscape recently and quietly introduced a similar feature, but buried it deep within its file menus--perhaps as a concession to its parent company, which relies on pop-up ads for its own advertising.

Safari also includes a built-in text reader that reads a Web page out loud. Another service automatically generates a summary of a Web page.

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If Apple's chances of winning significant market share from Windows through the release of software titles like Safari are slim, its chances of affecting the overall browser market are judged to be even slimmer.

Analysts point to the limited success that Mozilla has had, even with the marketing strength of AOL Time Warner behind it.

While Safari amounts to another chip on Apple's shoulder, it represents a significant setback for Mozilla, the open-source browser development group funded by AOL Time Warner's Netscape unit that supplies the technology behind the Netscape browser, among others.

Apple opted to use a competing open-source browser technology known as KHTML.

KHTML is a browser compliant with the World Wide Web Consortium?s HTML 4 recommendation and is designed for use with the K Desktop Environment (KDE). KDE is an open-source graphical desktop environment for Unix computers; Mac OS X is based on Unix.

Netscape declined to comment on Apple's choice of KDE.

But KDE contributors hailed Apple's decision, calling it a validation of the development effort and of open-source methods in general.

"It's a great acknowledgment of the hard work done by all members of the KDE project, and proof that the concept of free software is perfectly capable of producing software worth being the preferred choice of major hardware and software vendors like Apple," wrote KDE engineer Harri Porten, in an e-mail interview.

Porten, an engineer in Oslo, Norway, with Trolltech who wrote the original version of KDE's JavaScript interpreter (KJS), said Apple's choice would not only raise awareness and adoption of the software, but boost KDE's development efforts.

Other KDE developers agreed.

"As far as I can judge from the changelog, so far they did some nice improvements to the code which Konqueror, KDE's integrated Web browser, can certainly benefit from," wrote KDE contributor Dirk Mueller. "They also improved KJS."