June 22, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Maxthon: China's hip browser

Web surfers in China frustrated by censorship in search engines are increasingly turning to a little-known Internet browser with a big following in the Middle Kingdom.

Maxthon, a browser made by a tiny Beijing company of the same name, has attracted millions of users in China for functionality that can funnel traffic through a Web proxy and circumvent government controls on information in search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN, Baidu.com and other popular sites or Internet service providers in that country.

From China, the browser has caught on in Europe, and now somewhat in the United States thanks to an appearance with Microsoft at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year--though it's still largely unknown stateside. So far, about 60 million people have downloaded the browser since its launch in 2003. According to Maxthon research, about 14 percent of the Chinese Web population has used the browser and 17 percent employs it for Web search through Baidu, one of the largest search services in that country.

"It's exploding there," said Netanel Jacobsson, a Maxthon senior vice president and partner who's based in Israel.

Of course, Maxthon does not promote the proxy feature openly--it's merely a shortcut that has spread virally among Chinese Web surfers. People who download the browser must be fairly technically savvy to activate it, but according to Jacobsson, various bulletin boards in Chinese instruct people how to do it.

"The capability is there for people who know," Jacobsson said in a recent interview with CNET News.com.

In fact, Maxthon executives and investors downplay the feature for obvious reasons. Web censorship in China has become a hot-button issue as U.S companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have entered the market and complied with the communist regime's standards to restrict thousands of Web sites from public access. Yahoo has even turned over information on dissidents to the Chinese government. The search giants' practices in the country have come under fire by everyone from free-speech advocates to the U.S. government.

Maxthon

Still, Maxthon has a grassroots following for other reasons. It includes filters to zap all Web ads, including pop-ups--a valuable feature for the typically cluttered environments of Chinese Web pages. It's highly customizable with hundreds of "skins," and it includes tabbed browsing, baked-in RSS detection and readers, and remote-file access in partnership with software company Avvenu. It also has a development platform for plug-ins that inspires hundreds of techies to create add-ons for the browser.

Maxthon gaining fans fast
This summer, Maxthon will release a new version, Maxthon 2.0, that will include parallel browsing, similar to the picture-in-picture feature on TVs, in which surfers can browse several sites in parallel. They'll also be able to copy and paste text from one page to another without switching screens. The future of Maxthon is allowing people to customize it into their own information portal, Jacobsson said.

Maxthon's millions of fans and rising popularity point to the fact--yet again--that innovation in the Web browser market is not dead, nor is it ignored, despite a seeming end long ago to the browser wars, said analysts.

Though Microsoft's Internet Explorer has close to 60 percent share in the United States browser market, according to Forrester Research, and as much as 85 percent globally, according to various estimates, there's still plenty of fight left in the browser market.

As Michael Gartenberg, a veteran browser analyst and vice president of research at Jupiter Media, put it: "It's the most important space that no one really cares about."

In the last year, Firefox, Netscape's legacy, made inroads on IE's dominance, drawing more than 130 million downloads in less than two years. Opera, Netscape, Flock and Apple Computer's Safari have lured strong followings of their own, but none enough to overthrow IE. Firefox's threat and popularity has spurred a recommitment from Microsoft, however, with its introduction of IE 7.

"The browser wars continue, yet these days they're more border skirmishes than global conflict because there's just no money to be made selling the browser," Gartenberg said.

Some tech investors say people shouldn't forget that the browser is fundamental to the future of the Internet, giving people better access to information on the Web and the desktop if done right.

"The advent of broadband, and technologies like AJAX and RSS are redefining the role of the browser from a dumb reader to a single point of customization for users," said William Tai, a venture capitalist with Charles River Ventures and an investor in Maxthon.

"The first click is the browser, it's the instrument panel to the Web," he added.

Still, most of the money to be made on Web browsers today is through search advertisements. Firefox, for example, makes money on fees from search ads from Google, which is its default search engine.

Within China, Maxthon's default search function is served by Baidu, one of the biggest services in that country. Outside of China, Yahoo and Ask.com power its search features.

Maxthon turned a profit beginning in 2004. Roughly 80 percent of its revenue comes from search-related ads, collected from partners.

Despite not seeking funding, the company took on an investor, Charles River Ventures, in recent months. That deal was largely because of great interest on the part of Tai, according to both Tai and Jacobsson. The investment adds to early funding from Morten Lund, a seed investor in Skype. The company plans to use venture funding to add to its development team of about 15 in Beijing.

Still, a plus and minus for Maxthon is its rendering engine, which is actually Internet Explorer. Maxthon is built on top of the IE engine, removing it from direct competition with the software giant. Executives say that lets it add value to the browser through features like tabbed and parallel browsing. But that can be a double-edged sword, too, turning off people who dislike Microsoft.

"We make them look good," he said. He added that Maxthon has tweaked IE to make it faster, and people can choose to render Maxthon with Gecko, Mozilla's original underlying engine.

"Browsers are very much like a car," said Jacobsson. "Most people don't care what engine is inside, (they) choose which type fits, with the right shape and color."

See more CNET content tagged:
Maxthon, Baidu.com Inc., China, Web browser, Yahoo! Inc.

56 comments

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Maxthon
Hi all

I have been using Maxthon for years. It used to be called MyIe2 or something similar until MS got shirty. It uses the IE kernal so is very stable and adds lots of functionality to browsing with many plug-ins shipping with the product which is free. I couldnt do without it. Much better than any other browser. The feature list is so long it's too much to list here, just get it, then skin it to your desire.
Posted by TeraByteYerBum (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
US National Security Concern
Using software from China that can be loaded with prying Chinese eyes.

Be careful!
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're kidding
I trust the Chineese before I trust Bush.


.....and yes, I am an American patriot.
Posted by GrandpaN1947 (187 comments )
Link Flag
Paranoid?
Sounds to me like you're paranoid. Chinese companies are no more likely to contain "prying eyes" than US companies. Actually, perhaps less so.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Prying eyes?
Do you use Microsoft(R) Windows(TM) by any (C)hance?

Let's see... Maxthon browser: possibility of Chinese "prying eyes", but let's face it, who in the Chinese government really gives a damn about what we do on our home computers?

Now, let's take a look at M$ Windoze: Everyone knows they put spyware in their operating system so they can keep tabs on what your doing and which of their many licences you're infringing. And with all this this DRM carp it's only set to get worse. And Microsoft will be only too happy to nail you for it!

Like you say, be careful! [Use Linux!]
Posted by ayteebee (32 comments )
Link Flag
Maxthon the best!
I've also been using Maxthon for years (was MyIE2). Everyone makes a big deal about how Firefox has tabbed browsing but Maxthon has had it for years. It combines the best of many browsers:

- Uses the IE kernal so no rendering problems.
- Has tabbed browsing like Firefox, Opera, and now IE7 ('bout time M$)
- Has mouse gestures like Opera
- Skinnable
- Lots of plugin
- built in search bar to multiple search engines.

In response to baswwe, maybe the Chinese should be wary of Google (American) offering its browser to MILLIONS of Chinese. Talk about prying eyes!
Posted by uncle.rico (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Maxthon
I second that Uncle Rico.
Posted by YankeePoodle (785 comments )
Link Flag
IE "kernal"
Ride the snake.
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
Maxthon
I am using Maxthon right now and have been using it for a couple of years. Its gotten better and better over time from its MyIE days.
Posted by Gasaraki (183 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just proves
If people want information, where there's a will there's a way. China
will not be able to contain and censor information forever.
Posted by corelogik (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One way or another...
The Chinese people will get what they want. And to that I can only say: more power to 'em.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
Another Choice
Earlier this year Anonymizer (www.anonymizer.com) announced a product to help Chinese web surfers remain outside of the grasp of Chinese monitoring. This privacy software, created specifically for Chinese citizens, will enable safe access to the entire Internet by circumventing the Web filters put in place by the government. In addition, the new solution protects users from detection, persecution, and retribution by shielding their personal identities and related information that the Chinese government is currently able to monitor. Citizens of China as of the launch date could download the free software today at www.xifuchun.com. But that URL has to change regularly to avoid blocking by the Chinese government.
Posted by jonogg (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Truly anonymous ?
Anonymity from a government controlled net infrastructure seems technically impossible to me.

At least, authorities will detect that this particular user is using a software whose only use is to do something they deem illegal.

At best they can block it, at worst, police can knock at the door.

It's easy for vendors to make their pitch, they're not the ones taking the risk.
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Link Flag
No Link
Ok, is this intentional? Mention a web product or site ("Maxthon" appears 21 times in the story) and then don't actually provide a link to it. Plenty of links to other CNET stories, but no actual link to the product itself.

Can you please add a "mentioned in this article" section at the bottom with all the links, including to the product?

Sure, I can make the educated guess myself: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.maxthon.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.maxthon.com/</a> and usually be right, but it just seems sloppy to me.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
it's there
The first word of the paragraph "Maxthon, a browser made by a tiny Beijing company..." is a link to the Maxthon website. Maybe you missed it because it is not underlined!
Posted by ggupta7 (137 comments )
Link Flag
It's not a browser !
since it internally uses Internet Explorer or Geko, it's nor a real browser, just a sophisticated skin with some added gadgets.
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's correct, but it still ROCKS
It's not a browser, but a shell for IE and Gecko engines, which means that depending on which engine is active it registers as either IE or Mozilla on many webservers (which can't read the extended browser info). This means its market share is greater than the surveys reveal.

But, hey! It's great. The sidebar with built in RSS feed, extended toolset, and stability place it at the top of my browser list.

Highly recommended.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Very true
It's a gussied-up front-end GUI with skins...yes it has plug-ins and some neat features, but Opera is the real thing. Maxthon - as much as I wanted to like it- crashed on me four times in an hour. I realize it's a beta and hard work went into its making, but I'm disappointed with it as it currently stands.
Posted by MGSPhilly (2 comments )
Link Flag
I'm confused
No smart ass remarks please...

Based on 2 other comments here that this uses the IE Kernal am I to assume then that this is NOT a browser at all but an add on to ie?

Does this mean it is subject to all the security problems of ie too?

I currently use FF with the TOR service from EFF, would this Maxtor be better/worse or same in terms of anonimity?
Posted by KsprayDad (375 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You got it
It is NOT a browser. It inherits all of IE's countless security problems. It does have a few band-aid fixes to sort of hide some of the flaws. The problem is you can not polish a turd.

Just more bad reporting by cnet.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
Sorry...Maxthon not Maxtor
Oops...

My questions still stand though.
Posted by KsprayDad (375 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Anything that gets around the BS
Is a very cool product.
Posted by mystereojones (46 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No it is not a "cool product"
It uses all of IE's crappy code.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
The curse of popularity
I guess we just saw the beginning of the end of this neat product. The authority will breath soon breath down on this little company to force it change its ways. Too bad.
Posted by PangZi (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Well, keep going
Here's a blog entry I wrote around thinking about how to circumvent the firewall. Hope nobody minds me posting it:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://thingsbestleft.blogspot.com/2006/06/c-h-i-n-t-square-c-i-v-y-l-r-i-g-h-t-s.html" target="_newWindow">http://thingsbestleft.blogspot.com/2006/06/c-h-i-n-t-square-c-i-v-y-l-r-i-g-h-t-s.html</a>
Posted by richard.watson (34 comments )
Link Flag
So, keep trying
I wrote a blog entry about circumventing the firewall:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://*******.com/jqwkg" target="_newWindow">http://*******.com/jqwkg</a>

Essentially, use spam-like methods to mess with any recognition software they have, obfuscate etc.
Posted by richard.watson (34 comments )
Link Flag
I tried it
and Opera is better. I'll stick with it.
Posted by GrandpaN1947 (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So basically, it supports PROXY SERVERS?
...like all other browsers?

What's new exactly?
Posted by (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It supports multiple proxy servers and site assignments
It's not that it supports using one proxy server, which every browser supports (otherwise they would never find a place in the enterprise), but it supports multiple proxy servers that can be assigned by site. e.g Proxy1 for google.com, Proxy2 for cnet.com, wired.com, Proxy 3 for cnn.com, bbc.co.uk, etc.
Having this feature allows the browser to use normal channels for "safe" sites, and proxies for special sites.
That's important becuase it avoids detection as a broswer using a continuous proxy.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Bypassing the CN Firewall not rocket science...
My encounter with the China firewall story...

I had been living in Beijing for almost 2 years and was frustrated by not being able to access a forum blocked by the 'Great Firewall', which was related to the controversial topic of 3D graphics programming (turns out another site hosted by the same IP was being blocked).

After chatting with some local Chinese friends, I found out that most computer savvy Beijinger's were using anonymous proxys (just Google 'China Proxy', there are some sites specifically dedicated to this).

It took me a while to find a server that worked, and oftentimes I would need to change, but the result was the same, I was in China freely able to look at the same stuff everyone else was, and it wasnt that hard... I was using IE and Mozilla...

I thought this might be interesting to those outside of China... as when you live there, its very different to all the news hype (obviously) :P
Posted by ÀîΰÉÐ (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Responsible Journalism.......
CNET does a great job in reporting tech news. I visit it daily for the latest in tech news. It is one of my favorite sites on the web.

That's why I am puzzeled that CNET would post a story such as this.

Doesn't it make sense to NOT draw more attention to a tool used by the Chinese people to get through censorship than to run a story like this?

Don't the Chinese people have enough problems getting unfiltered news without news organizations bringing those avenues to the forefront of the Chinese Communist government's attention?

How long will it be now before the Chinese government either (a) closes the shop that produces Maxthon or (b) makes the authors include code used to spy on Maxthon users?

For the most part, I admire CNET's reporting of tech industry news. But, should everything be published just because we can?
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
if CNET knows
so does the chinese government... who are you kidding
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Link Flag
Sorry, Jim
I'm glad CNet wrote something about Maxthon.

Maybe I wouldn't have pursued the proxy angle, but Maxthon really is a great browser using the IE Engine. It's a great way to get IE compatibility with fewer risks (i.e. it has activeX blockers, etc.).

It's my default browser, and the default in the systems I've set up.

I like Firefox and Opera too, and these are also installed in the systems I've set up, but setting Maxthon up as the default avoids a lot of the gekko engine problems with IE only sites. (I know, I know, the guys who make IE only sites are total screwballs, but hey, we've got to live with them).

Try it, you'll like it. You'll find it indispensable when you've explored all the features, like an RSS reader, ad blockers, flash blockers, complex proxy management, blah blah.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Everyone I know in China is using it
I would think the numbers in China are even higher than listed as those computers with this loaded get higher usage because friends help friends on this.

www.chinalawblog.com
Posted by China Law Blog (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maxthon by the numbers
I think the numbers in China are even higher than listed as those computers with this loaded get higher usage because friends help friends on this.

www.chinalawblog.com
Posted by China Law Blog (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
India also develops radical browser
I have been following up with this company called NetAlter, which has been claiming to develop a radically different browser (NetAlter Service Browser).

Recently, this company has said that their system has received patent grant from Indian patent office with a broader software patent application filed with the US patent office.

According to NetAlter, their browser will offer a more secured and intelligent gateway to an alternative internet wide network.
Posted by guyfrom2006 (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stefanie Olsen needs to get out more.
She implies that it "just caught on" this year in the U.S.

First off, Maxthon used to go by the name "MyIE2".

Secondly in both incarnations it's been around for several years. I downloaded it from Download.com for the first time about 3 years ago, just out of curiosity.
Posted by angrykeyboarder (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New marekting slogan: we are anti-China?
I want to hire the same PR firm working for Maxthon. Brilliant
marketing branding itself as a Beijing company that's against
censorship in China.
Posted by taweili--2008 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great Browser with excellent skin options. As long as you have the guts to download your ad ons that are explained in Chinese you'll do fine. I downloaded ad hunter enhancer and the ads are gone
Posted by JB_Lapree (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is a wonderful experience in a web browser. Try it. What more could you want from your browser than this. Be warned though. Many ad ons are posted in chinese (skin downloads in chinese are ok because you get the picture of the skin). Stay clear of those intended for China. All the ones for our hemisphere are in english. Great "ad hunter" can use ad block plus filters thru ad on. I'm having a ball with this browser.
Posted by JB_Lapree (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Four years hence, Maxthon's market share is less than 4%.
Posted by shanx24 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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