Browser Wars

My whole time in web design was plagued with the evil and damned web browser Internet Explorer. Just 2 years ago, 50% of all internet users were utilizing Internet Explorer as their primary tool to view web sites. The other nearly 50% were using FireFox. In fact, some designers refused to design for Explorer and actually posted this decision right on their sites.

This was mostly because of Internet Explorer V.6 that was the Edsel of Browsers and was plagued with problems. It was released in 2001 to the chagrin of not only designers, but network administrators for all its security problems let alone the broken web page displays [source]. The problems Explorer 6 was noted for were bandaged and excused over the entire decade that followed until finally in 2009 Microsoft announced they were no longer supporting it. By then V.10 was on the market and yet a huge percentage of internet users were still using the problematic browser V6.

In this decade the mainstream browsers (In order of use: Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari and Opera) were suddenly met with a new level of demand by designers and users. Although the previously mentioned browsers competed fervently, new players emerged on the scene with promises of better results: Chrome and a few others.

The Big Browsers

Although the paradigm has changed significantly, the main players have hardly shifted much. People are creatures of habit and stay deep in their comfort zones. Americans are slow to adopt technology. When something new is presented it is done so with kid-gloves and soft exposure. Marketing and sales have mastered the art of delivering so that we, the consumers, almost believe it is something we needed and was there the whole time.

Think about the cell phone? Anyone remember when we did not have them? Anyone remember when the internet was not there?

So let us talk about Browsers and why one is better than the other:

  • Internet Explorer: Although the ghost of IE6 haunts the dreams of many designers and network engineers the Microsoft Corporation has staunchly refused to meet the strict standards of the W3C. The good side of this is that sloppily coded web sites will still work. The bad side of this is that pages are often distorted. Designers still have to have a stylesheet that addresses IE flaws in the way it looks at DIV’s and margins and more.
  • FireFox: Seems to have been the favorite go-to when designers and users were looking down their noses at IE. For many it was handed down by the angels in response of the IE6 plague. The beauty of this browser is that it provides SOOOOO many tools you can opt in for to make your internet experience productive. It even has tools for designers that help in the creation and analysis of web sites. With those pluses in mind, it also requires a lot of updates and they have to be painfully acknowledged; instead of letting them passively update. Another plus is that this browser is much more W3C compliant.
  • Safari: Most often associated with the Apple operating system this is a very complaint browser with some good plugins that people are generally pleased about using. There are not a a lot of development options in it for us web geeks, but the general public find it very productive. Of course most Apple users are worship the apple blindly.
  • Opera: Web geeks and the golden children of web development appear to really like this tool, at least they used to, until Chrome came along. Web purists like the ease of use of this browser and the ability to strip out the fancy styling and get to the content of the web page. This really was the forgotten child who lived under the stairs for many years. [more information]
  • Chrome: Began as a techie orgasm when it was released on an open source browser where it allowed developers to view the underlying code and add to the mechanism; which means an endless slew of plugins on the market. This quickly became the new sweetheart browser beginning in 2008 and forced designers and developers to seriously play nice with Chrome as well.

As much as we loved Netscape, once upon a time, it’s not worth mentioning; but fun to note.

My experience with all these browsers is varied and important to the creators of web sites, applications, blogs and more. With the demands of users and the shifting in technology it feels like most of these browsers simply cannot keep up with a responsible performing viewer of web based applications. Internet Exploder… I mean Explorer still shows pages very janky compared to the others. The others are not plagued with the same problems. Chrome has its own set of dysfunctional issues that I personally experience time and time again.

Compliance

As mentioned before there is an issue with W3C compliance. W3C is ‘the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web (abbreviated WWW or W3).  Founded and headed by Tim Berners-Lee,[2] the consortium is made up of member organizations which maintain full-time staff for the purpose of working together in the development of standards for the World Wide Web. As of 8 September 2009, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has 356 members.[1] [source]

Conclusion

Pontificating about any one browser over another is a waste of time since the major players are refusing to play nicely with each other. Looking at some of the references and reading about the different browsers and ancillary companies there are many tales of major battles between the companies. Each of them consider themselves an island while we, the consumers, only accept whichever one provides the least amount of difficulty.

Consider Adobe’s arrogant position and refusal at one point to work with Apple in their development of the Creative Suite that was still playing out even recently [sources]. This arrogance of popular software lines, with their strength in the market, gives these corporations corrupted power and a position where they no longer have to listen to the little people. One might note that other companies who took this point of view include the creators of Quark and Lotus Notes.

It is not the character of the average web user community to demand consistency and performance. We do not like the way a product works we project the problem on whatever is convenient and either accept the problems and continue using it or try other options without saying a word. Designers and Developers have been seen as whiners because we should be able to compensate for the bad software handed down from the gods of software. This is the only ONLY way something like Explorer 6 could have existed so long and while another one is probably right around the corner (cough, chrome, cough).

The views posted here are strictly my own based on my direct experience with these products as a user, designer and developer of web based sites and applications.

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