I’m watching a random tech talk about Indieweb stuff, and early in his talk, the speaker is describing how “we dodged a bullet” with Internet Explorer. His point is that, in the mid- to late-1990s, IE was the browser. Unless you were one of the few (at the time) people who didn’t run Windows, it was the only browser you had. Then, lo and behold, along came Firefox and Chrome and now Microsoft no longer owns the browser anymore.
It’s a bit of a throw-away reference, and I don’t mean to pick on this particular guy, but it bugs me when the story gets told this way. That’s not how it happened. It wasn’t innovation and competition and the free market on their own that automagically gave us real alternatives to IE.
The US government went after Microsoft as a monopoly and won. Microsoft settled, agreeing to open up its APIs to third-party developers so as to put applications like Firefox (and later Chrome) on equal footing with their own apps.
Yes, smart and innovative developers built good browsers that were faster and better than Internet Explorer. However, it was the government that had to to take action in order for these alternatives to get a real foothold and break IE’s stranglehold.