Will Google and Microsoft own the Web?

Browser monopolies are bad, mmkay?

It's something of an open secret that Mozilla, the organization behind the open source Firefox Web browser, gets most of its funding from Google — 91 percent, to be exact. The deal gives Google top placement in Firefox's search engine bar. But now that Google is also shipping Chrome, its own branded browser, some critics are asking whether the search engine giant's deep pockets have allowed it to gain too much influence over the Web browser market.

This week, Mozilla CEO John Lilly admitted that his organization's relationship with Google is "more complicated than it used to be" in light of the current funding arrangement. But Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz goes even further, claiming that because the market is controlled by just a few giant companies — namely Google and Microsoft — the Web browser has become "hostile territory" for application developers. Could the days of an open Web be coming to an end?

The technologies used to build Web pages — including HTML, JavaScript, and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) — are all open standards, maintained by industry consortia. No one company owns them. But experimental features often appear in new browser releases first, then are integrated into the official standards later. One example is Google's Gears technology, which is built into Chrome and is available as a plug-in for Firefox and Internet Explorer. Gears is widely expected to influence the upcoming HTML 5 standard.

That's all well and good, except that arguably only Microsoft can compete with Google's share of the browser market. For example, Opera is a longstanding alternative browser that is often praised for its compliance with Web standards, but its market share is but a fraction of that of Firefox or IE. Because of Opera's narrower reach, a new feature introduced in Opera might be seen as less significant, and therefore be less likely to become part of the public standards.

Sun's Schwartz has good reason to fear a market where large companies wield an undue influence over widely-used technologies. A few years ago, Sun fought a protracted legal battle with Microsoft over the Redmond-based giant's nonstandard implementation of Sun's Java programming language. Sun argued — successfully — that Microsoft's actions amounted to an attempted hostile takeover of Java.

Rather than see the same scenario play out on the Web, Schwartz argues that developers should avoid the "hostile territory" altogether. Instead of the browser, he says, developers should build applications using Sun's new JavaFX technology. But this seems somewhat disingenuous, considering that JavaFX is so far almost entirely the brainchild of Sun, and is therefore less open than any browser.

But there are other reasons to be concerned about Google's stake in Firefox and Chrome, too. Some privacy advocates worry that Google's influence over the browser market gives it access to too much user data, which the company collects for the purposes of its massively lucrative online advertising business.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Neil McAllister

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Imou: At home with security

Modern living is all about functionality and security for everybody from the very young to the very old. With Imou anybody can enjoy smart life – the solution is at their fingertips.

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?