Chrome rules the web
What Google’s browser has in common with Queen Victoria
Aug 10th 2013 |From the print edition
EMPIRES rise and fall swiftly on the internet. Google’s Chrome browser, which celebrates its fifth birthday next month, has captured much of the territory of older browsers and is now responsible for about 43% of all the web traffic generated by the world’s desktop computers. When Chrome was launched the dominant browser was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), with a 68% share—it is now down to just 25%.
It is only 20 years since Mosaic, the first browser capable of combining words and images in a single page, was made available. Some of its developers went on to launch Netscape, an improved version, in 1994, just as the internet was taking off. But Netscape’s dominance quickly crumbled after Microsoft started bundling IE with its Windows operating system. IE and Microsoft’s other software became so prevalent that in 2000 an American court briefly contemplated breaking the company into two.
By 2010, when the European Commission forced Microsoft to start offering Windows users a choice of browsers, many were switching anyway, especially to Mozilla’s Firefox. Now Chrome is increasingly pushing Firefox to the margins. Measuring browser use is difficult and subjective: one source shows that IE is still in front in terms of numbers of visitors to websites. But for e-commerce, share of traffic matters more. By this measure Chrome now dominates much of the planet. Like the boast made of the British empire in Queen Victoria’s time, the sun never sets on its dominions.