Have Microsoft just handed Google the keys to the internet?

Part 1 – The Battle for the Internet

Back in early December, Microsoft made a shock announcement on their official blog when they revealed to the world. They revealed plans to rebuild their Edge web browser so that it ran on Google’s Chromium rendering engine. This decision has shaken the industry for a variety of reasons, so this is the first in a small series of posts that aim to explore what this truly means for the internet and for you. Do you just want the short version? Then ultimately Microsoft handing over the keys to the internet to Google could mean that things get just a little bit simpler for online business owners.

The Browser Wars: The First Age

A selection of web browsers
Some of the most famous web browsers

Before we launch into a lot of statistics and numbers, it is important to note that the figures featured in this post are from a variety of sources. These sources all have slightly different figures for various reasons. It is incredibly difficult to accurately track how many genuine requests search engines receive. Similarly, how many installations and uses of web browsers are legitimate is a tricky thing to quantify. As such, these figures are broadly correct and the picture they paint is accurate; but the exact gristle of the data is open to scrutiny should you so desire.

As with any industry, there has been a hard fought battle for dominance of the web browsing market; it has shifted several times over the years and across various platforms as we will see. For much of the 1990’s, the battle was fought between Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator. The two traded blows back and forward for years, with Internet Explorer always slightly behind – despite coming pre-installed (and being basically irremovable) on every version of Windows. However, with Netscape essentially dying at the turn of the millennium (that’s another story),
Internet Explorer was left basically unchallenged. This allowed it to rocket to a market share of around 96% by the middle of 2002; firmly placing the keys to the internet in Microsoft’s hands.

Microsoft were not going to be allowed to keep their browsing crown however; in 2004 a new challenger entered the ring and began to slowly but consistently chip away at their dominance. This plucky new contender was known as Firefox.

The Browser Wars: The Second Age

Firefox was a completely different beast to Internet Explorer. Operated by the Mozilla Foundation, Firefox was an open source, community focused project. Mozilla are a non-profit organisation that are seeking to produce the best products for the community, not for profit; keeping the internet a public resource rather than a corporate tool. This all sounds very noble, and it allowed Mozilla to play with the heavyweights of the internet with a good degree of success. Within its first year, Firefox clawed back around 5% of Internet Explorers users; this trend continued until the end of 2008 when Firefox had approximately a 25% market share. Internet Explorer dwindled to merely 67% with browsers for platforms other than Windows such as Opera for Linux and Safari for Mac OS accounting for the remainder.

The logo for Mozilla's Firefox web browser

The logo for Mozilla’s Firefox web browser

Netscape Navigator did continue to be used during this time, albeit mostly by people with old computers or those that just lacked an understanding of how the internet was developing. This saw its user base dropped below 1% somewhere in 2003 and then 0.1% in 2005. So we can clearly see that Netscape are out of the race. However, 2008 was to be the start of yet another turning point for the direction of the internet. The worlds most popular search engine decided to launch their own web browser during this year. I am of course referring to Google and their Chrome browser.

By this time, Google already had well over 90% of the search engine traffic in the world; making it one of the most significant powerhouses of the internet. However, this popularity was not going to provide Google with the keys to the internet that they would later clearly be seen to seek.

Google has over 90% of the worlds search engine traffic
Google’s huge search engine majority share

As such, Google Chrome’s announcement did not come as much of a surprise to the industry. In fact it felt like a natural evolution for the company, and proved to be one that sounded the death knell for Internet Explorers dominance of the industry.

Dawn of the Modern Age

Although the initial adoption of Chrome was slightly slower than Firefox’s had been, few could have foreseen what the following years were to bring. Chrome garnered a small but respectable 4.2% of the market by the end of 2009; however, the browsers popularity was soon to explode. Chrome’s share leapt to 15.2% by the end of the following year, and then 25% by the end of 2011. Chrome continued to go from strength to strength; but interestingly, during this period of growth it was predominantly eroding Internet Explorers market share. This demonstrated that people were embracing the evolution and introduction of choice to their internet browsing. Something that allowed Firefox to hold on to approximately 25% market share with a good deal of consistency.

Google Chrome has been instrumental in getting Google the keys to the internet
The logo for Google’s Chrome web browser

At this point, both Chrome and Firefox were holding about half of the market between them. This pushed Internet Explorers market share below 50% in the first quarter of 2010 for the first time since 1998. This was probably one of the most balanced periods in this tale, with no one clearly holding the keys to the internet. But the trend did not stop there.

Chrome kept powering on and constantly taking a greater share of the market from its competitors. By the start of 2012 it had officially surpassed Firefox, taking the silver medal from them in less than four years from its launch. Then, a little over a year later in February 2013, Chrome knocked Internet Explorer from the majority perch it had been enjoying for so long.

Getting up to date

This is essentially how the market was to sit for quite a while. Internet Explorers popularity would continue to wane, and now it’s hold on the industry was shattered it eventually fell into third place behind Firefox in the middle of 2015. Firefox itself saw a general fall in usage, with its market share steadily declining to about 10% by the end of 2018, barely above Internet Explorers 6%. Safari continued to be steady but nonthreatening contenders to the big hitters. It managed to hold on to around 5% in 2018; but even the launch of Microsoft’s new browser, Edge, with Windows 10 in 2016, nothing could touch Chrome.

By the time we catch up with ourselves today, Chrome holds around 70% of the market share, which may cause you to think that they already hold the keys to the internet, especially with their other products. But this is a long way from complete control, as both of Microsoft’s browsers are still barely scraping a 10% share between them. Firefox has their 10% and Safari another 5%, with the last 5% being other browsers. This is the landscape we find ourselves in today with the internet; Google controlling a considerable portion of the browsing market.

The Future

Now that Microsoft is rebuilding Edge to use the Chromium engine, that means that effectively Google now have the keys to the internet as their competition has decreased; even if it isn’t quite that straight forward. Google also have fingers in the Mozilla pie, even if they do not directly effect the browser.

In the next part of this series we will look at what Google has to do with Firefox as well as why any of this matters. Believe it or not, there is ridiculous money to be made by providing free resources and services to internet users; and we’ll see how.

If you can’t wait for the next part of this series then get in touch right now and we’ll happily discuss how these decisions will shape your future.