Friday, May 24, 2024

Is There Such a Thing as a “Best” Browser?

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Religions, sports teams, operating systems, browsers … one thing they all have in common is that most of us root for the one that we think is the “best.”

Now, while I’m not going to wade into a debate about the best religion, sports team or OS, I am going to challenge the belief that there’s such a thing as a “best” browser.

Browsers have come a long way from basically being little more than text editors hooked to the Internet. A browser nowadays is a multipurpose tool that not only allows us to consume Internet content, but also to create new content.

The web browser is now probably the single most important piece of software on computer owner’s systems.

And because web browsers are so important, browser makers are fighting hard to grab as much user share as possible, because the power that the vendor wields is proportional to the number of followers, uh, I mean, users, it has.

At present, the big fish is Microsoft with Internet Explorer. Problem is, this is a big, heavy, cumbersome, tired old fish that owes its 65.7 per cent market shareto nothing more than being the default browser in Windows.

Since Internet Explorer doesn’t really have to work for its market share in the same sense that other browsers have to, that’s made it the soggy, unfit beast that it is now.

Next up is Mozilla’s Firefox. With its 23.8 per cent, it’s hot on the heels of Internet Explorer, which is really pretty amazing, given that it has had to fight Microsoft for each and every Windows user it has managed to convert.

I’m ignoring the fact that there are a lot of Firefox users out there using Linux, but statistically they’re a drop in the ocean compared to Windows users.

In the single-digit percentage market share we have Apple’s default Mac OS X browser Safari (with a market share of 4.2 per cent), Google’s Chrome (3.2 per cent market share) and Opera (2.2 per cent market share).

In my day-to-day work I spend time working with each of these browsers, and each one offers advantages over its competitors. For example, Internet Explorer is just there on every Windows system waiting to be used, just as Safari is on the Mac. Firefox has countless add-ons that you can use to augment the browser to make it unique to you. Chrome is fast and lightweight. Opera is a good, solid all round browser. Of course each browser too has downsides, which are too numerous to list here.

The Best?

But what about the “best” browser. Does such a beast exist?

I don’t think it does. Why? Because the bottom line is that even the worst browser (which, by pretty much any metric that you use – speed, performance, reliability, compatibility, extensibility – is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer) is still good enough to give people access to the web and allow them to both consume and create content.

Sure, there are faster browsers than IE, but for 90 per cent of users, IE is fast enough. Same on the standards compatibility front. IE might be way behind the rest in terms of conforming to the latest standards and passing tests such as ACID 3, but that doesn’t change the fact that IE is good enough.

In fact, chances are that surfers will have more problems with websites if they don’t use IE. Sounds crazy, but web developers have been creating websites with IE in mind for years now. Same goes for any other metric you might want to use.

IE might not be the winner, in fact, it might lag behind the rest, but it’s still good enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t shop around for the browser that works best for them. They should. In fact, I’m a big proponent of getting people to install and work with multiple browsers.

One for work and one for play is a good dividing line, but you can refine this to the point where you make use of the strengths of each of the browsers.

For example, I might use IE for general browsing, switch to Chrome when I’m working with lots of tabs and windows (a strength of Chrome) and switch to Firefox when I want to make use of a particular add-on. This way I get to leverage the benefits of all the browsers.

So, to get the best browser you learn how to use the right browser for the job!

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