All of the three major browsers are given away free to anyone that will take them. But that doesn't make the the competition among them any less ferocious; just the opposite, really. Microsoft's Internet Explorer enjoys about a 75 percent share of users, Mozilla's Firefox 18 percent, and Apple's Safari has 5 percent. Mozilla and Microsoft are battling one another by offering newer versions of their browsers, out in beta now, and Apple is trying to gain market share by surreptitiously bundling Safari with automatic updates for its iTunes music player. Why fight over free stuff? Because many feel the browser will become everything to the user in the future, supplanting the importance of even the Operating System.
With tasks like e-mail and word processing now migrating from the PC to the Internet, analysts and industry players think the browser will soon become even more valuable and strategically important.
“People in the industry foresee a time in which for many people, the only thing they’ll need on a computer is a browser,” said Mitch Kapor, the software pioneer who now sits on the board of the Mozilla Foundation and has created a start-up, FoxMarks, that is developing a tool to synchronize bookmarks between computers. “The browser is just extraordinarily strategic.”
That notion has helped to rekindle the browser wars and has resulted in the latest wave of innovation. Firefox 3.0, for example, runs more than twice as fast as the previous version while using less memory, Mozilla says.
Google essentially bankrolls Mozilla by paying for the traffic Firefox shunts to Google by making it the default search engine on the browser --$65 million in 2006 alone. But they're just being cute. They're beating Microsoft over the head with Firefox like Moe smacks Curley, while the third, less prominent Stooge -- Larry Apple -- stands around waiting for his turn to get slapped. The big players think it's very important which browser is pre-eminent if the browser eventually becomes king. Apple can always sell pricey hardware, and Google can keep on reaping paid click revenue and paying Mozilla. But now you know why Microsoft wants Yahoo! and the Internet presence it represents. If they can't sell operating systems, they'd be out of business, essentially. Could be worse. I think a free browser that made an OS superfluous would make Linux into Shemp. No one wants to be Shemp.