The browser wars continued last week with the release of Firefox 7, followed immediately by the Beta of Firefox 8.  For those keeping score, in the last six months and change, Firefox has gone all the way from unveiling version 4 to making the beta of version 8 and the alpha of version 9 available for download.  (At Firefox’s channel download page, “Firefox Aurora” is the alpha of version 9 and “Firefox Beta” is the version 8.)

Firefox explains their rapid release philosophy as a dedication to be agile, just as the internet is agile.  Really, though, the decision to retire major version numbers so rapidly is a marketing one, not a technical one – whether a release is called version 8 or version 4.4 has no bearing on the underlying functionality.  The cynic in me notes that with version 9, Firefox’s version number will match the latest stable release of Internet Explorer (side note: the latest developer preview of IE 10 was released last month as well).  You may remember that Firefox’s predecessor of sorts – Netscape – also skipped a version number with Netscape 6, putting it ahead of IE’s version number.

As for who is actually winning the browser wars, there are no especially reliable figures, but it’s generally held that Internet Explorer is #1 with around 40%, Firefox is #2 with around 25%, and Chrome is #3 with around 20%, which, by the way, is phenomenal considering that Chrome only came into existence three years ago, and it is well on its way to taking the #2 position away from Firefox.

For the developer of web applications, this means that it is important to test your products on at least the three major browsers, plus a mobile device.

Photo credit: National Parks Service

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