A History of Web Browsing

Web browsers have had one of the most public and interesting competitive lives of any software.

The very first web browser was the WorldWideWeb (not to be confused with the Web in general), created by Tim Berners-Lee and released to the publc in 1991. It had a graphical user interface, but it did not display web pages with images embedded in them.

The first browser that could display images alongside text was known as Mosaic, and it really was an innovation that changed the world, the web browser that popularized Web usage. In 1994, Marc Andreessen and a few of the original Mosaic developers banded together to start Netscape along with Jim Clark, a well known Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The early days of commercial browser development were marked by high energy and many innovations that continued to expand and improve the kinds of information the internet could provide. Every week it seemed that new sites popped up and new features appeared in browsers. A Wired Magazine article ( captured some of the excitement from those early days when browsers and the web were starting to take off and grow rapidly.

However, while Mosaic and then Netscape Navigator were first to enter the game, they failed to corner the market. After a relatively short and aggressive "browser war", Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) took the lead. Through spending over 0 million on the development and promotion of IE and aggressive business practices, Microsoft was able to capture around 96% market share of all browsers in use. Some of the business practices Microsoft engaged in during the "browser war" were later determined to be anti-trust violations ( With control of the market and no perceived business case for improving the browser, Microsoft began scaling back development in 2002 and 2003. In 2003, it announced there would be no more standalone versions of Internet Explorer (

With Microsoft out of the game, Netscape in decline, and many websites using pop-ups and untargeted advertising schemes, some consider 2001-2004 as a dark age of innovation and improvements for browsers and the web.

A new chapter was added to this story with the debut of Firefox. Firefox is a distant descendant of Mosaic and Netscape. In 1998, Netscape set up the Mozilla Project and made its browser code freely available as an experimental strategy to gain a competitive advantage against Microsoft. This allowed programmers around the world to study the Mozilla code and follow its development.

In 2003, the Mozilla Foundation was created as an independent organization, and in 2004, Firefox 1.0 was released. Since then the number of users has grown steadily. As of 2009, Firefox had approximately 23% of worldwide market share, with more than 300 million of the 1.2 billion Internet users around the world using Firefox as their web browser.

In response to Firefox, Microsoft changed its plans, restarted its browser development, and released IE9 in March 2011. In addition, Apple introduced its own web browser, Safari, in 2003, which has since been included in all Apple computers as the default browser. The rise of Firefox, and the returning focus on web browser development and competition, has led internauts to unofficially announce the "second browser war".

Google is the latest entrant into the web browser market, releasing Chrome for the Windows operating system in 2008. An open-sourced version of Chrome, called Chromium, was also released. Chromium allowed developers access to the browser's source code in order to convert Chrome for use on Apple Mac OS X and Linux operating systems. From this work, versions of Google Chrome for Mac OS X and Linux were released in 2009.

As of writing (April 2011), Internet Explorer is still the most widely used web browser. However, it is leading by a slight and diminishing margin. Firefox follows IE in browser market share, while the less-used Chrome and Safari are both continually increasing in popularity.