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Safari for Windows, and the power of the default January 14, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in browsers, Consumer internet.

Download Squad reports on a rumor that Safari might be released for Windows, citing Mary Jo Foley who found the speculation on Mozilla’s Firefox 3 requirements wiki. (The speculation has since been removed form the Mozilla wiki.)

The comments discussion largely focuses on how Safari’s features stack up against those of IE and Firefox. I think one other important factor comes into play, the power of the default.

Like many other’s in the tech industry, I have a weakness for overthinking features. But my experience as a former General Manager of Netscape taught me that feature comparison is not how the general public makes its consumer technology selections. Very often, the general public will go with the default technology choice, only looking for an alternative if the default is obviously inadequate in some way.

The best example is the story of how IE won the first browser wars against Netscape. Microsoft worked with the PC OEMs to ensure that IE was the only browser shipping on new PCs and that eventually caused market share to tilt overwhelmingly in IE’s favor. (Microsoft eventually settled the anti-trust case with AOL for $750m.)

When Firefox came along, IE was starting to show obvious signs of inadequacy in the security arena. Even the general press was reporting on virus outbreaks and other security threats, and they were blaming IE. This was raising the level of attention of the general public – it helped Firefox grab and hold the “IE Alternative” mindshare in the US. Interestingly enough, this is geography dependent, with Maxthon holding 30% market share in China, and Opera strong in some countries in Europe.

At Netscape we found it very hard to create a “third alternative” in the minds of the general public. It seemed as though there was only one slot available in people’s minds as the alternative to the default. Although I haven’t tracked browser market share by geography much recently, I suspect that this may also be true in Asia and Europe, and that there is still a strong power law to market share distributions among browser vendors in each continent. Our primary mode of distribution was through our own portal, where we had the “default” position.

Safari is the most popular browser on Macs because it is the default. But I suspect that it will run into the same problem that we did if it is released for Windows. There is really only room for one “default alternative” and so they will find themselves fighting with Firefox instead of fighting with IE in the minds of possible users.


1. Bryce - January 14, 2007

Interesting. I totally agree with your statement of default + alternative, however this can differentiate – example: Opera which is a great browser which could have been Firefox but they went down the ad-supported track.

2. The Mac Fanclub» Blog Archive » Safari on Windows? - January 14, 2007

[…] A commenter has written an article on the economic complications of the port, an interesting […]

3. Best product features; neither necessary nor sufficient « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - January 23, 2007

[…] online recently, in part because of a couple of recent posts I wrote in reaction to rumors of a Safari browser for Windows and questions on the value of widgets. What struck me is that very often, the “best” […]

4. Harold Carlson - June 12, 2007

As long as it doesn’t require parts I will “drive” the underdog. I don’t care what their market share is. I like Safari but miss the icons for de-licious however you spell available only for Firefox. Bummer!

5. ansemond.com » Blog Archive » Why Safari will double its market share - June 12, 2007

[…] most people don’t change default browser, people who use Safari at home will be tempted to use it at work on the Windows box they’re […]

6. Berges - June 16, 2007

Unless Safari comes out with some radical new technology i dont think it will have much share in the windows market! However Apple claims it has been downloaded 1 million times which is quite surprising

7. Social networks don’t threaten Portals, they threaten Home Pages « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - June 25, 2007

[…] are gaining a toehold, and there can be only one “homepage” for any user. Because of the power of the default, capturing the “homepage” centrality is an incredibly significant position; it offers […]

8. Johnnie Manzari - June 25, 2007

Jeremy, you missed a subtle, but important, distinction between the Safari distribution strategy and something like Firefox. Apple has the iTunes Trojan Horse. If they bundle Safari for Windows in to the Windows iTunes installer and change some registry settings they can get 100M downloads in a year. There will be attrition, but the numbers will add up over time to something nontrivial.

9. jackyan - September 10, 2007

I never thought about it this way, Jeremy, but you are right. While I maintain three browsers for testing, my practice in most of the years I have been surfing—that’s 14 this year—has been to have one default and one alternative. And most of the computers at the office have two, too.

10. Softolio » Most frequently visited websites - not what you’d expect - August 7, 2008

[…] in the list of most frequently visited sites emphasizes the power of the default, which I have posted on before in a slightly different context. Inertia is a powerful force, not to be underestimated. Capturing […]

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