Web Winners and Losers in 2009

Break out the Champagne and get ready to celebrate the winners of the Web in 2009, and give a few shots to the losers. Looking back on 2009 on the Web, we saw some tectonic shifts in the market and major developments that are going to make 2010 very interesting indeed. Grab your tickets and we'll see if you picked the winners for 2009, but if you bet heavy on Microsoft, you might be disappointed.

It’s time to take stock of 2009 and see who came out on top. The browser wars heated up in earnest in 2009, with some unexpected outcomes and major shifts in the market. Who’s on top and who’s coming in last? Let’s just say that Microsoft should be putting together some New Years Resolutions and the Google team will be having some Champagne.

Biggest Loser: Internet Explorer

Yeah, I know it’s not terribly surprising that a Linux advocate would declare Internet Explorer a loser. But it’s not FLOSS bias that’s speaking here, it’s simple fact — IE lost market share big in 2009 to Firefox and Google.

If Microsoft wants to compete on the Web, it needs to get to innovating fast and furious. While, technically, IE competes in the browser market, it seems more like a conscientious objector. Where’s the excitement and cool features that might make IE interesting? There’s nothing compelling about IE over the other browsers on the market, except it’s the one that doesn’t require a separate download because most people just get it by default. Well, until now, anyway.

Some users may not get IE by default in the future. Microsoft has conceded to implement a “browser ballot” that will give European users a chance to select something other than IE on Windows. Of course, in true regulatory fashion, the fix is being implemented long after it means anything. Microsoft is already losing the browser battle on its own without any help from the EU.

Flock, the “social” Web browser, picked up a minor win here by being chosen as an alternative for the “browser ballot.” Though Flock is a nifty idea and has interesting features, it lacks the marketing muscle of the major players. This might help the scrappy little gang of “Flock Stars” to increase Flock’s market penetration.

Biggest Winner: Google

Chrome launched in 2008, but it’s been on fast-forward development-wise in 2009. It’s gaining mind and market share at an amazing clip, and should have Microsoft and Mozilla plenty nervous. A few weeks ago, Chrome launched extensions and beta versions of Mac and Linux browsers. The Chrome developer ecosystem is picking up steam almost as fast as Chrome renders pages. Many of the “must-have” extensions are already present on Chrome.

So far, Chrome’s market share is still in single digits no matter how you measure it. But estimates vary from the 5% range to 8.5%. Meanwhile, Safari plods along in the 2% to 3% range, and Opera holds steady around 2%. Clearly, Google is doing something right technically, and leveraging its enormous Web presence to drive awareness of Chrome.

Chrome is proving superior to IE and Firefox in speed and blows the doors off Firefox in terms of stability. Whether that remains true once users start glomming onto a myriad of extensions is an open question. Much of Firefox’s crashiness seems directly related to extensions.

It is worth noting that Google did get some pie on its face with Google Wave. Touted as the next generation of email and the second coming for collaboration, Wave turned out to be an over-hyped disappointment for the first generation of users. An invite-only service, Wave drew massive interest for the first wave or two of invites, but now Wave users have a surfeit of invites and no one interested in joining the party. The bouncers can go home and take the velvet ropes with them — few people are interested in crashing that party now.

Google has been busy in 2009 sticking its fingers in virtually all the Web pies. Not content to dominate search and advertising, Google is getting involved in DNS, operating systems, created its own programming language, tons of Web-based applications, voice communications, and more. If there’s information moving from point A to point B on over the Tubes, Google wants to touch it, fondle it, and index it. Right now, consumers seem pretty OK with Google cozying up to their information because its tools are just so damn slick and sexy.

2009 has proven one thing: it is all about developers. Mozilla and Google are in a race to see which can attract the most developers to build on their browser platform. It’s not just about viewing Web pages anymore, it’s about making the browser the OS. Which, in fact, Google did.

Mozilla Wins and Loses in 2009

As we turn the corner to 2010, Mozilla is seeing massive breakthrough success as a mainstream browser, but is going to be struggling with Google for market share in 2010. According to some stats, Firefox lost market share in November to Chrome. It’s too early to say that’s a solid trend, but if I were making predictions for 2010, I’d say that Firefox and Chrome will be in a dead heat by July for market share. If Microsoft is smart, it’ll back Mozilla and start talks to replace Google as the default search engine when the Google/Mozilla deal expires in 2011.

Firefox 3.6 is supposed to ship this year, but with another beta released this week, it seems unlikely to make it out the door before 2010.

Firefox 3.5 was released in June of this year and has been a solid release, but most of the real excitement around Mozilla this year has been from Mozilla Labs. Weave has been nearing a release, JetPack is gaining interest, and Ubiquity’s interface for working with Web tasks will help Firefox leapfrog the competition if it gets into a widespread release.

Mozilla Messaging released, finally, Thunderbird 3.0 to mixed reviews. While Thunderbird is arguably the best desktop Mail User Agent (MUA), it may not be compelling enough to compete with Webmail. The tabbed interface and new search features are nice, but it’s a evolutionary upgrade over the 2.x series, not a major leap — and desktop MUAs need a major leap right about now.

A major messaging leap might be coming in the form of Raindrop. Though not yet ready for widespread use, Mozilla Labs has pushed out early releases of Raindrop in 2009 and received great interest. Raindrop is an effort to unify the conversations we have all over the Web — not just in email — and might just be as interesting as Google Wave was hyped to be.

The most important platform in 2010 for Mozilla might just be mobile. The Moz folks have been putting a lot of work into Fennec, which is finally nearing 1.0. A unified desktop and mobile strategy might help Mozilla quite a bit, but they’re going to be facing stiff competition — especially since two of the popular smartphone platforms have their own built-in Web browser. Mozilla might be able to level the playing field a bit on Android devices, but it’s hard to picture Apple giving any space in the app store to a competing browser.

One wonders if Mozilla should seriously consider shipping its own operating system for desktop and mobile in 2010.

Opera Fails to Excite

Opera delivered a solid browser with Opera 10, but failed to see much uptake beyond its core audience of loyalists. Opera is still a presence on mobile devices, but it faces similar challenges to Mozilla on mobile.

The introduction of Opera Unite raised a few eyebrows when it was introduced this year, including mine. However, Unite hasn’t delivered much in the way of developer attention and when it was finally released in a stable version of Opera, it was met with a collective yawn.

2010 isn’t looking like a banner year for Opera right now, but maybe the company will pull a surprise.

Safari Still Mobile King

Of mobile Web browsers, Apple’s Safari on the iPhone and iPod Touch is still king. Of course, that means nothing if you’re not an iPhone or Mac user. Safari on Windows has little interest, and Chrome is already passing Safari’s market share.

But Safari is still hands-down the best browser on a mobile device. And iPhone is catching up to the Blackberry, having already passed Windows Mobile in the smartphone operating system market.

Webkit Wins

Another winner in 2009 is WebKit, though you don’t hear much about it. WebKit is being used by Apple for Safari, Google for Chrome, and the KDE Project for Konqueror, as well as several other projects. With that much development love from all directions, WebKit will continue to be a healthy FLOSS project in 2010, even if most people never realize that it’s what powers their Web experience.

A Banner Web Year

Things had gotten pretty stagnant in the Web browser market by 2008. Chrome’s entry in mid-2008 has heated things up considerably. There’s plenty going on now, and development is proceeding with browsers and tools at a breakneck pace. HTML5 should bring all sorts of Web wonders in 2010, and in general things look to be very interesting for users and challenging for all the companies looking to be number one in the browser market and on the Web.

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