I'm seeing more and more folk post, "we got out of IE, we can get out of Chrome," on social media, referencing the nigh-monopoly Chrome has on the browsing experience. Unless you're using Firefox or Safari, you're using Chrome or a Chromium-derived browser. For those of you too young to remember what internet life under Internet Explorer was like, here is a short list of why it was not great:
- Once Microsoft got the browser-share lock in, it kind of stopped innovating the browser. It conquered the market, so they could pull back investment in it.
- IE didn't follow standards. But then, Microsoft was famous for "embrace and extend," where they adopt (mostly) a standard, then Microsoftify it enough no one considers using the non-MS version of the standard.
- If you were on a desktop platform that didn't have IE, such as Apple Macintosh, you were kinda screwed.
Google Chrome took over from IE for three big reasons:
- They actually were standards compliant, more so than the other alt-browsers (Mozilla's browsers, Opera, and Safari)
- They actually were trying to innovate in the browser
- Most important: they were a megacorp with a good reputation who wanted everyone to use their browser. Mozilla and Opera were too small for that, and Apple never has been all that comfortable supporting non-Apple platforms. In classic dot-com era thinking, Google saw a dominant market player grow complacent and smelled a business opportunity.
This made Chrome far easier to develop for, and Chrome grew a reputation for being a web developer's browser. This fit in nicely to Google's plan for the future, which they saw as full of web applications. Google understands what they have, and how they got there. They also understand "embrace and extend," but found a way to do that without making it proprietary the way Microsoft did: capture the standards committees.
If you capture the standards committees, meaning what you want is almost guaranteed a rubber stamp from the committee, then you get to define what industry standard is. Microsoft took a capitalist, closed-source approach to embrace and extend where the end state was a place where the only viable way to do a thing was the thing that was patent-locked into Microsoft. Google's approach is more overtly FOSSY in that they're attempting to get internet consensus for their changes, while also making it rather harder for anyone else to do what they do.
Google doesn't always win. Their "web environment integrity" proposal, which would have given web site operators far greater control over browser extensions like ad-blockers, quietly got canned recently after internet outrage. Another area that got a lot of push back from the internet was Chrome's move away from "v2 manifest" extensions, which include ad-blockers, in favor of "v3 manifest" plugins which made ad-blockers nearly impossible to write. The move from v2 to v3 was delayed a lot while Google grudgingly put in abilities for ad-blockers to continue working.
Getting off of Chrome
The circumstances that drove the world off of Internet Explorer aren't there for Chrome.
- Chrome innovates constantly and in generally user-improving ways (so long as that improvement doesn't majorly affect ad-revenue)
- Chrome listens, to a point, to outrage when decisions are made
- Chrome is functionally setting web standards, but doing so through official channels with RFCs, question periods, and all that ritual
- Chrome continues to consider web-developer experience to be a number one priority
- Alphabet, Google's parent company, fully understands what happens when the dominant player grows complacent, they get replaced the way Google replaced Microsoft in the browser wars.
One thing has changed since the great IE to Chrome migration began, Google lost its positive reputation. The old "don't be evil" thing was abandoned a long time ago, and everyone knows it. Changes proposed by Google or Google proxies are now viewed skeptically; though, overtly bad ideas still require internet outrage to delay or prevent a proposal from happening.
That said, you lose monopolies through either laziness of the monopolist (Microsoft) or regulatory action, and I'm not seeing any signs of laziness.