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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.