Microsoft's Internet Explorer has overwhelming dominance of the browser marker yet there are still teams of programmers out there avidly toiling away on alternative browsers. Maybe they think of themselves as a resistance movement?
The open source Mozilla project was born out of the failure of Netscape to hold onto its initial market position but a very interesting graph published by Google paints a very telling picture of how IE 6 continues to rise and Mozilla/Netscape is barely visible amongst the sediment at the bottom. AOL's new settlement with Microsoft and decision to continue to use IE for the next seven years makes the future of the 'Netscape' branded browser look shakier than ever.
The more bleeding edge Mozilla is certainly not a browser for the masses; it is an continuing work in progress that occasionally spawns a more publicly palatable Netscape 7.x. The main problem with such an open source, free-for-all approach is that it buckles under heaps of redundant and inefficient code that inevitably ends up being slow and unstable. Much as I like Mozilla, it persists in interfering with text entry into other programs that are open at the same time on my Mac. It was marked as a bug over a year ago but has never been fixed.
After the release of Mozilla 1.4, that is all going to change and a new leaner and meaner product is going to rise from the ashes. The original name 'Phoenix' was apt, but had copyright problems so now it's called 'Firebird' and is available for Windows, Linux and MacOS X as version 0.6. Mozilla.org says that 'Mozilla Firebird' is a project name rather than a brand name, which gives them the option to change it if they feel like it.
For starters, the integrated mail application has been moved out into a separate program, 'Thunderbird', but more importantly, 'Firebird' has been re-written using the XUL user interface language making it easier to port to different platforms.
Downloading the Mac OX version, the size was about 11 Meg compared to 15 for Mozilla 1.4 beta, which isn't a dramatic difference, but booting it up was no problem and it did seem speedier at loading and rendering pages. Although it is light in the 'bells and whistles' department, it handled my browser-killing test suite with grace. Admittedly, I didn't test it to destruction with every technology available, but it seemed pretty solid to me for a 0.6 release.
The reason for shifting emphasis away from Mozilla 1.x is that the development had become unwieldy and difficult to manage. Firebird has been designed to be smaller, faster and more extensible. The add-on possibilities have been simplified and improved so that the browser can easily be customised to individual users' requirements with modular plug-ins.
Firebird has an advantage over Microsoft efforts in that it will be available for the more obscure platforms that MS isn't interested in but I can't see any compelling reason for the great mass of Windows users to shift over in any significant numbers.
As far as good browsers are concerned, MacOS X users are spoiled for choice. There's the other Gecko-based Camino and Apple's own Safari, which is a very hard act to follow.
Which leaves Linux and all the other UNIX flavors whose users will undoubtedly welcome the speed and stability but also have the more mature Opera to choose from.
It's a tough old business!