Browser Wars Lessons
HBS Working Knowledgehas a Q&A with professor Pai-Ling Yin to discuss what drives technology adoption, and do browser upstarts such as Firefox stand a chance.
Q: What are the chances for browsers like Firefox and Camino for the Mac to become mainstream products?
A: Firefox and Camino claim only a small market share, and those users are on the tech-savvy end of the user spectrum. In particular for Mac-centric browsers, we still live in a PC-dominated world. Until IT managers in large enterprises are willing to support these browsers, they will not hit the mainstream in any major fashion.
Why won’t an IT manager support these versions? The biggest headache with these browsers is that the majority of Web sites are optimized on IE. Try going to some of the major commercial airline sites, or to the Web sites of older and smaller companies. If you use Firefox, sometimes you will find missing menus, missing pictures, links that don’t work, etc. Even Netscape doesn’t work with all of our Harvard Business School applications.
But its Webmasters who are the real barrier to a late-to-the-game second mover in the browser market. Because different browsers require slightly different code to be viewable, it is costly for Webmasters to write for different types of browsers. They will tend to pick the browser that is most used by the majority of end-users. Thus, the source of network effects in this market is indirect. While end-users don’t know which browser other users are using, the developers of the content that make the browser so useful do care that everyone is using a similar browser.