If you take a look at the five most popular web browsers right now, you will notice huge differences in popularity among them. The web browsers in question are Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari and Google Chrome.
Firefox was - and is still - the only web browser that was able to take away a huge chunk of the web browser market from Microsoft. Opera, Safari and Google Chrome remain niche browsers that have not reached the popularity of Firefox up to this point in time.
The question to ask is therefore the following: Why is the Mozilla Firefox web browser more popular than the other three Internet Explorer contenders? Microsoft's Internet Explorer is in a unique position as it is distributed automatically with the Windows operating system. This alone ensures that the browser has a sizeable share of the browser market.
A look at a comparison of all five web browsers at Google Trends and their search and news volume over the last five years reveals some interesting information. Firefox started to become the most searched after web browser in 2004 and was able to keep the lead until today. The other web browsers spiked at specific times, e.g. during the release of Google Chrome, but failed to take advantage of those spikes.
Mozilla Firefox (light blue line) definitely gets more press coverage than the other web browsers which might be one of the reasons for its popularity. If you open a computer magazine you will most likely find Firefox articles but rarely anything about Opera, Chrome or Safari.
Speed or compatibility are most likely not a deciding factor for the popularity, as all web browsers are speedy and stable enough to provide a good user experience. Microsoft's Internet Explorer is still lagging behind speed wise but the latest Internet Explorer 8 made a huge jump in this regards and is closing in on the other web browsers.
The main reason for Firefox's success is its extensibility in my opinion. Firefox add-ons increase the functionality of the web browser enormously, and they also ensure that any new popular feature that might be introduced by another web browser company will be offered to the Firefox community as well. The main advantage of this approach is speed. When Opera introduced Speed Dial it took only a short time before the first Firefox add-ons appeared that mimicked that feature.
Ten years ago it would have taken months or even years as those features would be implemented by the developers of the web browser directly. The add-ons ensure that Firefox stays on top or close to the top in all regards. This is something that no other web browser offers currently.
Microsoft tried with the Internet Explorer Marketplace but it never gained the popularity that it needed to take off. Opera tried with their Widgets. Widgets are small extra windows that provide many of the features that add-ons do. The main problem for many users is that the widgets cannot be integrated into the web browser's interface. Both Safari and Chrome do not offer something similar yet. The extensibility is obviously not the only reason for the success but it makes a huge difference.
Now it's time to chime in and let me hear your opinion. What do you think about web browser popularity?
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.