Theres something to be said for being the second most popular Web browser in China.
At least thats what executives at browser maker Maxthon are hoping as the desktop software maker launches a push to expand its presence in Europe and North America. As part of that effort, the Hong Kong-based company announced this week that its eponymous browser has now reached nearly 50 million downloads worldwide.
What makes Maxthon vastly different from all the other players battling it out with market leader Microsoft for a larger share of the worldwide browser market isnt just the fact that it was originally developed in China by a now-missing Falun Gong devotee, or that 60 percent of its users are Chinese, but rather that it is built on the same code at the heart of the software giants dominant Internet Explorer.
Based on the same rendering engine designed by Microsoft for Explorer, which the company provides to outside developers, the free Maxthon browser does however offer most of the same features and design benefits evangelized by IE rivals including the Firefox and Opera applications.
Like Opera, Firefox and even beta versions of Microsofts next-generation Internet Explorer 7, Maxthon offers so-called tabbed browsing controls, onboard security tools and an RSS reader, along with a range of user interface customization options.
And much like Firefox and Opera, the company relies largely on the work of a legion of volunteer developers to continually make design suggestions and report problems to Maxthon in order to contribute to the advancement of the program.
Maxthon executives said that by offering the best of both worlds in embracing the underlying stability of Microsofts code and the attitude of something built by an open community of developers, it believes it can grow the browsers reach outside Asia.
"You really get the benefits of both models by starting with the Microsoft rendering engine and promoting development within a community," said Netanel Jacobsson, senior vice president at Maxthon.
"Open-source people might dislike it because its not open source, and since its based on IE technologies, but we think that when people start to see what weve built, even some of those perceptions may change."
Specifically, the executive said that Maxthon may appeal to businesses that have avoided Explorer alternatives like Firefox or Opera based on their loyalty to Microsoft technologies.
Maxthon claims that the browser supports all Web sites and many applications built with Explorer users in mind, unlike its rivals who are forced to create workarounds just to view some types of Web pages.
Maxthon also enjoys a friendly relationship with Microsoft and even displayed its browser alongside the software giants exposition at this years Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Since Microsoft makes the rendering engine available to developers free of charge, Maxthon doesnt pay the company any royalties either.
"Microsoft likes us, they dont want to kill us, they think we make them look good," said Jacobsson.
"Considered alongside Firefox, which hundreds of millions have downloaded, we show that you can build off of Microsoft technologies and create something similar, so its actually very positive for them."