Browser Wars and Lessons Learned
Check out this Web Browser market share data: From April 2009 until the end of February 2010, Internet Explorer lost 6 points. Market share for other Browsers was flat, with modest gains in a few cases. The biggest winner: Google Chrome which appears to have take share almost exclusively from Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
Chrome is relatively new, having been released in September of 2008. I am sure that most of us expected it to be successful. While 5.6% sounds small, the trend is significant. As for Firefox, it is not growing like it did early in the decade, but I would not write it off. Read the history of Firefox; it has been around for a while with version 1.0 coming out in ~2001.
Perhaps you are thinking, "Well, Micorsoft has this large position; 6 percent is nothing." Check out this July 2004 InfoWorld article which says IE had a share of greater than 95% early in the decade. Now instead of a 6 point share loss, we are talking about 34 points in 7 years. Ouch.
What's going on here and what can we learn? While there are many lessons, I want to comment on three: Innovation, Focus, Velocity and Risk Taking.
- Innovation: Many (most?) of the Browser innovation we use today originated in smaller companies or as browser add-in's. These innovations targeted user needs. It is not that big companies cannot innovate - they can and do, but small companies are usually faster, they are hungry and their culture promotes risk taking. When the big guy becomes fat and happy, the smaller player usually moves in and eats his lunch (i.e. take market share). I am not saying Google is small, but they are behaving like a small company in how they develop new products.
Note: There are several Firefox add-on that I cannot live without and that could easily become standard features for a browser. (I guess that would be a good topic for a future post).
- Focus: Big companies often become distracted. Management sees new 'growth opportunities', loosing focus on what really matters (Think of the recent problems at Toyota). Focus is often overlooked as a key to success in business and life. Project team will be more successful if they focus; business will be more successful if they are focused on what matters. It is possible to bring focus to teams inside large organization.
- Product Development Velocity: Microsoft is not known for being fast to market. They have deep pockets and are wiling to be patient. This strategy has worked, but this data suggest that it may not be sustainable. Rapid prototyping and involving customers early works. Get something in the customers hands early! I live in a world where it takes far too long to develop products. Speed to market has has many benefits and is a competitive advantage.
Risk Taking: Remember this phrase: 'Fail early and fail often'. Don't be afraid to change directions. Be willing to take well considered risk. Will there be failures? Most certainly. Organizations that are not wiling to take risk spend most of their time in a state of paralysis which slows or even kills innovation.
Organizations that put these principles in place can increase their chance of success. Yes, it take talent, capital and other factors, but these four keys can make or break an organization.
What do you think?