Web developers wary of AOL switch

America Online may be too late to launch a full-scale offensive in the browser wars, but it might be able to broker a lasting peace.

AOL recently disclosed that it is testing a replacement to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, which it has bundled with countless "free AOL" CD-ROMs for years. Considering that the AOL online service has nearly 35 million users, a switch to technology from its own Netscape division would not only upset the current balance of power in the browser market, it could send tremors through the ranks of Web site developers.

For all practical purposes, the Web has become a one-browser world over the past few years. Web authors mostly write and test their sites to work with one browser: Internet Explorer. If the sites work with Netscape, Opera or other small-time browsers, that's a bonus, but not one to keep most Web authors late at the office tweaking their code.

If Netscape becomes the default browser for AOL's client software, developer perceptions of the one-browser world would rapidly dissipate.

"If you're developing, you develop for IE," said David Averill-Pence, a San Diego-based Web developer whose sites include an unofficial site for New Line Cinema's "The Lord Of The Rings" movie. "Nobody I know spends a lot of time worrying about whether a site will work with Netscape."

As the world's largest Internet service provider, AOL controls about 5 percent of the browser market--not enough to dislodge IE, which is used by more than 80 percent of all Web surfers. Still, a switch in the service's default browser could provide a big push for Web standards that might help level the playing field for IE rivals, according to Web developers and standards advocates.

News source: CNet News

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