The Web has a fresh lease on life, showing healthy competition among browsers and dramatic changes in usage.
Browsers get second wind
Mozilla Firefox, a browser with origins from onetime Microsoft rival Netscape, chipped away at Microsoft's dominant market share all year. After releasing Firefox 1.0 in November 2004, the Mozilla Foundation saw downloads shoot to 50 million by April and then top 100 million by October 2005.
Handy features, such as tabs and protection against malicious software, helped fuel Firefox's ascent. Microsoft seemed to like Firefox's tabbed browsing so much, it decided to add that feature to Internet Explorer 7, now in beta, along with tighter security.
Firefox got a helping hand from IBM, which boosted its internal expertise on Firefox and actively encouraged its employees to download Firefox in place of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
Other competitive browsers moved ahead as well. Opera Software, marking its 10th year, released a free version of its namesake browser which did away with banner ads, and introduced a mobile version. Netscape released its version 8, with antiphishing features. Meanwhile, market share for Apple Computer's Safari climbed incrementally in 2005, according to market research from Netapplications.com.
Perhaps more significant than the Web browser products themselves was a shift in the way the Web is used. Some people used the term Web 2.0 to describe applications that ease communication between people over the Web.
Improvements in Web technology are paving the way for an explosion in new Web applications. AJAX, a term coined this year, is a technique that enables developers to create interactive front ends and eliminate the need to press the refresh button. Google Maps and Gmail were some of the most high-profile applications to use AJAX, but usage is spreading, fueling the growth in hosted consumer applications and social-networking services.
An important aspect to modern Web applications is "mashups," where information from multiple Web sites can be combined programmatically. Mashups, often done by individual developers, sprouted up in all areas, allowing people to combine information, such as the location of London bombings or real-estate listings, with mapping services.
Indeed, collaboration and sharing are being baked into the Web firmament. The adoption of syndicated blogs via the RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, protocol skyrocketed, leading Microsoft to announce plans to build RSS support into Internet Explorer and Windows in the future.
A small group of developers in October introduced the first preview of an open-source browser called Flock, which uses many emerging Web technologies, such as RSS content feeds, photo sharing and blogs.
Many speculated in 2005 that search heavyweight Google would build its own browser. Instead, Google extended the Web-browsing experience with the launch of Google Desktop, which pipes information from the Web onto desktop PCs.
Big Blue looks to hire techies to adapt the open-source browser to work well with its server software.
Open-source browser has shaken up the market but now faces its own challenges.
Big Blue is encouraging its 330,000 employees to use Firefox as an alternative to IE, providing support and internal downloads.
Microsoft confirms next version of IE will include tabbed browsing, a feature made popular by Opera and Firefox users.
Company will build support for Really Simple Syndication into the next version of Internet Explorer, as well as into Longhorn.
Like software makers, Web sites are encouraging coders to build upon their data, giving users more tailored services.
Free software seems to move the search giant further into Microsoft and Yahoo territory.
Looking to broaden usage, Opera Software eliminates banner advertising in its latest version.
Messaging company Zimbra is one of several companies betting that AJAX-style Web development will shake up the PC software market.
With 100 million downloads under its belt, Mozilla Foundation looks to upcoming release of the next version of its browser.
Flock is based on Firefox and includes automatic RSS feeds, photo and bookmark sharing, and other next-generation Web technologies.
Watch out, Office. New tools and techniques are fueling a surge in hosted versions of traditional PC software.
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