The browser was one of the first fields where Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) domination made itself felt. By incorporating a browser in the Windows operating system, Microsoft made quick work of one of the browser pioneers, Netscape. Then, Microsoft's power got so huge that it got hit with anti-trust measures, seeking, among other things, for Microsoft to allow other browsers in its near-monopolistic operating system.
Since those times, a lot has changed. Not only have mobile devices emerged as another gateway into the internet, but even in the PC world other browsers established an ever-greater foothold. Although statistics diverge depending on who's collecting them, there are even numbers out there showing Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome as now being the dominant browser among desktop browsers (Source: Wikipedia, StatCounter).
On the other hand, the browser is the gateway to a more cloud-centric future. As more and more business applications start being run in the cloud, the browser will increasingly be the interface of choice to access them. Indeed, this might even lead to a reduced importance for the host OS where the browser is actually running on. Taken to the extreme, the browser can even be the OS.
The browser can thus be a way for Microsoft to suffer increased competition. This was already seen in the way the mobile world did not suffer from not being able to run Windows applications. In this context, Microsoft suffers not only from seeing parts of the computing landscape not needing it anymore, but it then suffers twice by losing its controlling position in the browser marketplace even in computers running an OS it controls.
Microsoft's new enemy
So basically, Microsoft has been losing ground both due to the emergence of mobile computing, and even in its own platform. And now, it's facing a further new enemy which might accelerate such losses.
What is this new enemy? This new enemy is itself. There is a well-known browser problem afflicting Internet Explorer. This problem has been in place since at least Internet Explorer 8, and continues to exist even in Internet Explorer 10. At some point, when one opens a new tab, the tab shows up but nothing else happens - the new tab is rendered useless.
This is an incredibly annoying problem. And it's widespread as well. If one googles for "internet explorer tabs won't load", 5.45 million hits show up, and Microsoft answers is filled with related topics, some of which several pages long, such as this one.
In these topics, many users express their frustration both with the problem, and with Microsoft's convoluted attempts at solving it. Yet, years after, the problem persists, and keeps getting new users complaining of the exact same issue.
Now, there is a single solution which most users have found helpful. And that is use a different browser.
This, over time, matters. Not only does Microsoft lose the users forced to switch browsers, but it's highly likely that each of these users will turn into an evangelist of the competing browser. At the first sign of any acquaintance of them having problems with internet explorer, it's likely that they'll say "switch to Firefox" or "switch to Chrome" … "I did and I don't have problems anymore".
It's thus amazing that Microsoft would let this kind of issue unresolved for so long and through several iterations of Internet Explorer. Even if the problem is caused by third-party software such as add-ons or display drivers, the fact is that Microsoft should harden its own software against the chance of such problem occurring. The fact is that whatever causes it, it does not have the same effect on competing browsers, so the problem is avoidable. But Microsoft hasn't avoided it.
Finally, I also experienced this problem. I, too, was forced to switch browsers so as not to lose any more time with this. This is serious.
Microsoft has already been losing market share in the browser market. Now, Microsoft is fighting a new enemy in this market - and the enemy is itself. Microsoft has let well-know and terribly frustrating bugs affect several generations of its Internet Explorer browser. One of these bugs presents as the easiest solution to simply switch to a competing browser. Not only will this lead to further erosion of Microsoft's shares, but it will probably create an entire army of evangelists for the competing products.