Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy belated 20th birthday Mr Web Browser

The first web browser, appropriately named WorldWideWeb, was released publicly in August 1991 by 'Father of the Web' Tim Berners-Lee.

While I realise this post is a month late, I thought it would still be worth wishing the web browser 'Happy Birthday' and commenting on the impact that web browser software has had over the last twenty years.

If you go back twenty years (and two months), the internet was primarily a text based knowledge storage and communication medium.

While it was already global - just - the number of users could be counted in the thousands and were primarily researchers and academics at universities, with a few large companies and individuals thrown in.

With the introduction of WorldWideWeb (which became open source code in 1993), the internet was capable of becoming a visual medium, displaying text in stylesheets, images, sounds and even movies (it even built in a spellchecker and a WYSIWYG web page editing tool).

Today, the web is the largest media distribution channel on the planet, used by 2 billion people directly, and indirectly by almost the entire population of the planet. It supports the largest video library in the world (YouTube), the largest and fastest updating encyclopedia (Wikipedia) and the dominant social networks used by well over a billion people to remain connected to each other, despite distance and time.

Much of this is due to the innovations embodied in that first web browser - the browser that literally founded the world wide web.

Source: The brewing browser brouhaha
Sydney Morning Herald 29/09/2011 
The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported on the current state of the web browser market, looking at the five main platforms available - all of which are free to download and use (see image right).

Internet Explorer, from Microsoft retains the single largest market share, a reported 43% share - well down from the 90% plus they claimed back in 2005 (when IE6 dominated).

IE's share is split across four versions of the browser, each with very different capabilities - for July 2011 from net applications this was divided into IE6 (9.22%), IE7 (6.25%), IE8 (29.23%) and IE9 (6.8%).

Similarly, Firefox's share across versions has increased as their development pace has accelerated - for September 2011 from StatCounter this was divided into mainly Firefox 3.6 or lower (9.44%), Firefox 4 (2.10%), Firefox 5 (10.09%) and Firefox 6 (5.73%).

Today's diversity of web browsers is both an opportunity and a challenge for organisations. It provides an ecosystem rich in innovation and increasingly compliant with industry standards, however requires organisations to constantly reassess whether they are still designing for the right standard, or equipping their staff appropriately to access the range of web content they need in their jobs.

On the whole I think it is good to see this competition, although I appreciate the incremental cost of web design it brings - compatibility adds at least 10% of costs to web projects and can add more than 20% if designing for 10 year old web browsers, such as IE6.

The web browser has changed the world, largely for the better. It has opens up global publishing and distribution to billions and generated enormous efficiencies in sharing information (many of which remain to be realised as laws and processes catch up with the changed environment).

And yet, if the web browser was a person, it would not yet (quite) be legally allowed to drink in the USA.

I wonder what the next twenty years will bring.

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