I admit it. I have a whole slew of internet browsers installed on my computers. I keep looking for the perfect browser. In my mind, it needs to be fast, secure, compatible with every website known to browserkind, work miracles with Flash and Silverlight, and handle Java, HTML 5, and CSS3 perfectly. Oh, and render images perfectly regardless of format using hardware acceleration, allow me to customize it, give me a choice of search engines, let me run extensions to customize the experience, synchronize browser settings from different computers, and let me have everything that I want my way.
Is that too much to ask?
It used to be considerably easier. Previously, I only ran Windows and had my choice of Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator. Even when I was forced to use a Macintosh computer, there still was a version of Internet Explorer that would make me feel at home. These good old days seem so long ago now. These browsing experiences were fairly similar and so I had a particular mindset as to what the browsing experience was.
I then read about this browser developed in Europe called Opera. I downloaded it and it was an eye opener for me. There actually was a different way to think about browsing the internet. This has started me on the search that I continue today.
So, on my computer, you’ll find instances of Internet Explorer, Opera, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Flock, Safari, and RockMelt and I rotate through them all regularly. As of late, my favourite has been Google Chrome, I will admit. I’m not alone – browser share is important to the individual developers. You’ll see them and their legions of fans scrambling to explain why a particular browser is better than the rest.
The real winner in all of this is us, the end user. As each browser adds new features to it, it pushes the whole industry along to create better browsing experiences. For me, the timing of this post is especially important. Microsoft is releasing Internet Explorer 9 at the SXSW Conference. Recently, Google upgraded its browser to Version 10, Apple pushed out a new version of Safari, Firefox has a Release Candidate for Version 4, Opera is now at Version 11, and the upgrade paths continue. What’s really nice though is that all of these browsers are adding features and making things better with each release. These better things include making your time on the internet safer.
I suppose the biggest thing for me was the incorporation of hardware acceleration in the browser. Microsoft demonstrated it nicely with an earlier Beta of the Internet Explorer browser and I did sit up and take notice. With the hardware at work rather than the software at doing graphics, it flew. I just wish that some smart developers could work their magic with Flash and Silverlight in this manner. There’s nothing quite so warm as a computer fan picking up speed to try and cool off the i7 processor doing its best to keep up.
I don’t think there’s a bad browser in the bunch but here are my current thoughts about each.
Unfortunately, I see this browser in a downward spiral. It used to be THE browser – nothing else came close. But, security issues became apparent and patch after patch was pushed out to try to make the browser safe. With a huge market share, it was the perfect target for designers of malware. As one patch was applied, another security flaw appeared. It’s tough being number one. As Internet Explorer’s problems became apparent, it really presented opportunities for other browsers to get fans. In advance of the release of Version 9, the Internet Explorer 6 Countdown was given. It’s hard to believe that, in this world of heightened security, a ten year old browser is still seen as safe to use. Internet Explorer 9 is build with security in mind and the promise is to make the web a beautiful thing. I’ll be grabbing a copy on March 14 to experience it myself. This might be enough to stop the spiral.
Until about a year ago, this was my default browser – hands down. It provided a safer feeling when browsing on the web and opened the door for extensions/addons for me. I saw the light for different ways to browse with Opera and it continued with Firefox. I went on a mission to try and incorporate all of the things that I do on the web – blogging, Twitter, and Facebook being very important – having them built right into the browser. It was great. However, with subsequent updates to version 3, Firefox started to feel sluggish and my eyes started to wander. I was intrigued with the Release Candidate of Version 4 and it now resides on my computers. Recently, on this blog, Stephen Downes offered a suggestion for a new feature to speed up the loading. When Firefox goes gold, I’ll give it a shot if it’s still needed.
I must admit that, after playing with all the browsers, this is the default for me right now. It loads almost instantly; I have my default pages pinned in place and a nice collection of addons in place. Along with Firefox, the AdBlock extension is great for making things even faster by hiding many of the annoying ads that come along. It does scream in terms of speed. It’s fully customizable and just works so nicely. With the promise of the Google Chrome Operating System in the offing, it can be configured by using the Google Chrome Store to be like an entire web operating system right in the browser. I do think that I’m looking at the future with the concept of a Web OS. Imagine just getting connected to the web and you always have the latest and greatest software and storage available without having to constantly apply patches to your computer!
I really like Opera as a browser. It was the first piece of software that incorporated gestures. That is a real experience for me. Not only does Opera have extensions but it does have widgets. Combining the two lets you dress up a browser very nicely. Opera seems very fast but I haven’t had a great deal of luck with the ad blocking extensions. Opera seems to do the best job of giving the most room for browsing on the screen. It incorporates Speed Dial when you open a new tab and many other browsers have since incorporated similar features.
Flock used to be my default browser when it was build on the same code as Firefox. In addition to the features that I enjoyed with Firefox, Twitter was built right into it. It was my first move into a social web browser and I really liked it. Then, there was one update that came along that didn’t like Flash well. Hit a web page that used Flash and the fan noise seemed deafening! There wasn’t an upgrade forthcoming and so I left Flock although I did check in periodically to see if there were upgrades. Unfortunately, not. I then started to hear rumblings that Flock was going to be built on the code from the Chromium project. As soon as it was released, I downloaded it and was impressed to a certain extent. However, I had moved to a different Twitter client and the Twitter functionality just wasn’t at the same level. The latest news is that Flock has teamed up with Zynga. This could result in some really exciting social media use in the future. I’ll keep my eye on the prize.
I really like the concept behind RockMelt. It takes the premise of a social browser like we see in Flock and adds more to it. With Facebook integration, you can monitor everything that’s happening in your Facebook world while you browse. It reminds me of a secretary that I had years ago with sticky notes all around her monitor with the Twitter, Facebook, and addon edges in place. I have my copy tripped out with the same functionality as Google Chrome.
I’ll be honest. I keep it updated but I don’t use it. Maybe I would if I just used a Macintosh computer but I regularly work on the Windows and Linux platforms as well. My ultimate goal is to find the perfect browser for all of my computing words and to synchronize among them all. In my world, that rules out Safari at this time.
By the same logic, I’ll grab Internet Explorer 9 when it’s available to see the “beauty of the web”. Maybe it will make a deep enough impact that I’ll make it the default browser on my Windows computer. Who knows? I am hoping to see good things with it. The other players have made great moves in visibility and safety while this release has been under development. I’m looking forward with anticipation. The preview releases have indeed changed the way that Internet Explorer has always worked and felt.
How do you feel about your browser?