From the earliest days of the web, there have been a number of different web browsers available, almost always free. At every stage, the dominant browser has looked to be heading towards a monopoly, only to fall away again.
When the web first started to take off, almost everyone used NCSA Mosaic (ask your parents if you’re under 35). This was usurped in the late 1990s by Netscape Navigator, which at its estimated peak had built up a market share of 90%.
That too had its day, and was killed off by Internet Explorer, which reached an even higher market share of 95% by 2002. As the default on new Windows PCs, ‘IE’ looked impregnable, with the only real resistance being offered by the plucky Firefox (peak market share around 30% in 2010).
The early 2010s, however, saw the steady growth of Chrome, which took over the crown around 2012 and has never looked back. Its own peak market share seems to have been 2018, when it reached 70%. This is more impressive than it sounds, as mobile device browsing overtook desktop browsing for the first time in 2016, and the native browsers (such as Safari on iOS) make it harder for Chrome to establish a foothold there.
I doubt this will last forever though. Chrome is developed by Google. While users seem quite happy to use search engines funded largely by advertising, an increasing number are less keen on using a browser that’s presumably created to facilitate the tracking behind the ads. That’s why Firefox clings on, along with a number of other interesting browsers such as Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, etc.
Perhaps the main threat to Chrome’s dominance on desktops could be the 2020 incarnation of Edge, a very different browser to the one of the same name originally produced by Microsoft in 2015. The new Edge is built on the same open-source engine as Chrome, and can use the many extensions which have been a key driver in Chrome’s success. Edge has quickly overtaken Firefox in market share, but could take a dramatic leap forward with its introduction this month as the browser provided with Windows 10 updates. Edge is also available on Mac OS (where I’ve been using it for the past couple of months).
Features which could make it appealing include ‘Automatic Profile Switching‘ which keeps business and personal browsing separate in a neat way. However, it’s not leading on cookie tracking and privacy features, so for those of us with an interest in targeted advertising, the alarm bells aren’t sounding yet.
I prefer to have a whole set of different browsers for different tasks and accounts, but I realise most people aren’t as nerdy as me. If you’re a regular Chrome user, you might like to take a look.