Browser Wars, Again

The modern browser isn’t simply a way of accessing content, it’s a virtual machine. It runs sophisticated client-side applications built in Flash, AJAX and Java. Perhaps recognizing this, Apple, eager to see its Safari browser on more than just Macs, recently decided to enlarge its PC installed base by including the browser in an iTunes update. Mozilla CEO John Lilly was quick to respond, saying it bordered on malware distribution. Nasty stuff.

On the mobile front, Opera Mini has decent market share, and the Skyfire mobile browser made a splash with its perfect rendering of web sites that don’t survive the mobile experience well, albeit only for Windows Mobile. And with the third release of Firefox approaching, Mozilla is reporting impressive performance and memory management numbers.

Efficient memory management is critical for browsers that don’t crash and respond quickly, particularly when they’re running complex applications within them. Consider project management startup LiquidPlanner, or database-meets-spreadsheet Blist, both of which use Adobe’s Flash. Or Gmail, which runs on an AJAX framework. Then there’s all those plug-ins, from diagnostic tools to helper applications. It’s not unusual for browsers to consume over 200 megabytes of computer memory when running.

Browsers have made computers interchangeable; most of us can work on whatever machine we have at hand, be it a PC, Mac or an XO laptop. As a result, the browser is the new desktop. Today’s browser competition is less about who renders HTML properly, and more about what the incumbent browser is and how well it accommodates whatever new applications the Internet throws its way.