The Battle of the Browsers

Nathan is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

On Dec. 15, 1994 Netscape Navigator was born. Just over a year later it claimed over 50% of the total browser market share. In the years that followed, Netscape and the team behind it pioneered a brand new and extremely competitive industry by firing off the first shot in a war of perpetual innovation that has raged on for nearly 20 years.

Ironically, Netscape Navigator was one of the first major casualties of this war. By the end of the 1990's, Microsoft's “Windows” operating system and “Internet Explorer” web browser started becoming increasingly popular, and by 2002 Netscape Navigator was just a nostalgic memory for the vast majority of internet users.

The purpose of this article is to identify the key players in the web browser market today and to briefly analyze them as potential investments.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT)

If you've used a computer in the past ten years, there's a good chance you've used Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser. After handily defeating Netscape Navigator in the earliest battle of the browsers, IE gained almost total dominance of the web browser market. However, this dominance would prove to attract increased regulatory scrutiny of the company's business practices and led to an April 2000 conclusion that Microsoft “had committed monopolization and attempted monopolization” by bundling Internet Explorer with its popular Windows operating system. But, all of that proved to be too little too late as Internet Explorer maintained over 80% market share for over a decade, eventually slipping below 50% market share in 2012 for the first time this century.

In recent news, the company has made a big bet on the mobile device ecosystem. Windows 8 - the newest refresh of the company’s flagship operating system - was designed specifically for use on traditional desktop computers and todays most advanced touch-enabled mobile devices. On Feb. 9, Microsoft doubled down on their mobile strategy by releasing the Surface Pro - a tablet computer capable of running the full version of Windows 8 Pro and designed to represent Microsoft’s vision of a future with one compatible OS running all of your devices.

The company’s stock is up about 5% year-to-date, but down about 8% from this time last year.


On Sept. 2, 2008 search giant Google entered the browser war by launching the beta version of Google Chrome - an innovative new web browser that promised less clutter and improved speed. With the familiar Google logo and incredible ease-of-use, the product quickly gained traction. By the beginning of 2011, Chrome claimed nearly 15% of the total market share. On March 18, 2012 StatCounter - a web analytics company - reported that Chrome was the most used web browser in the world for the first time, capturing 32.7% of the global web browsing on that day vs. Internet Explorer’s 32.5%. Today, Google Chrome maintains its position as the most popular web browser in the world.

Google is a global technology company that focuses on areas such as search, advertising, software development, mobile hardware and platform development, and social. In Jun. 2011 the company launched Google+ - a social network designed to compete with Facebook for users and advertising dollars. On Sept. 18 of 2012 Google's Senior Vice President of Engineering Vic Gundotra announced that “over 400,000,000 people have upgraded to Google+.” While the methodology of counting active users vs. users who have signed up for the service may differ, it still lands Google+ squarely at second place in the world of social.

The company’s stock is up over 11% year-to-date, and is up 30% from this time last year.

Firefox & Mobile

It would be unjust to post an article about the browser war and fail to mention Firefox - the browser that all the cool kids used before Chrome. It was launched by Mozilla in Nov. 2004. During the years that Chrome spent overtaking Internet Explorer as the world’s most popular web browser, Firefox maintained a resilient 20% - 30% market share.

Over that same period, mobile browsing grew from basically non-existent to over 10% of the browsing market. The mobile browsing market remains extremely competitive with Google, Apple, and Opera all leading the pack. 

In Summary

It’s been fun taking a trip down memory lane! I hope you all enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. As usual, this is by no means an endorsement of any stock or a recommendation to buy or sell any stock. My goal is simply to educate, amuse, and enrich. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment!

nbradham has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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