Sunday, June 17, 2007

Safari vs Firefox

Apple has now released a Windows version of the beta of version 3 of their Safari browser. In the first 24 hours of availability, it has been downloaded one million times, a feat roughly on par with Firefox. One question I've seen asked on such luminary sites as Slashdot is, "Will Safari steal market share from Firefox?". This is obviously a concern for the rabid anti-Microsoft crowd at Slashdot, but I really don't see it that way. One reason that I believe Firefox spread so quickly is because it was a browser that web developers could really use to enhance their productivity. Where I work, it seems most, if not all, developers use Firefox to develop the web pages, and then use IE to check that the site renders properly there too. These developers would then encourage friends and relatives to install Firefox on their PCs at home, not so much because that they could then be good developers too, but because Firefox blew IE6 out of the water on almost all counts. In the absence of a conventional marketing machine, Mozilla used word-of-mouth to "ignite the web". In my opinion, Safari is aimed at a different audience - people who have bought an iPod, and use it with their Windows PC. Apple already bundle in their atrocious QuickTime player in with iTunes, and adding a decent web browser to the bundle is a no-brainer for them. There's not too much denying that it performs better than IE when it comes to outright speed, and it appears to focus on simplicity (although many complain that it is missing too much (such as the use of the left thumb button on the mouse to navigate back a page, as IE and Firefox do. Of course, since Mac users barely get a right mouse button, it's no surprise there's no support for further buttons!)), but that is also a good thing if you don't do anything complex when browsing. What Apple are doing is playing Microsoft's monopoly game; if Microsoft can use a monopoly on the OS market to drive sales of the Office suite (or, more relevantly, to completely crush Netscape's dire Navigator 4 browser), then Apple can turn a monopoly on the MP3-player market into browser market share (by the way, see how I manage to avoid use of the most pointless and hideous word to be shoe-horned into the English language - "leveraged". Guys, the word is "used" - just because it has three times as many syllables, it doesn't make it three times as clever to use it). Even better, there is a good proportion of the market that only uses their Windows PC for music, email and web browsing. With iTunes and Safari, Apple now has a good chance of hooking those users, and converting them into Mac owners. And that's where the real money for Apple still is, selling expensive white boxes.

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