The Anti-Buzz: Web Browsers … Again!

by Andrew Emmott on October 12, 2010

in Anti-Buzz,General,Internet

The Buzz: Recycling old content is a bad idea.

The Anti-Buzz: Recycling old content is a great idea!

Why: …

Okay, I’m joking – however this is now two articles in a row in which I have revisited old content. However, this time I didn’t have a choice, about 10 weeks ago I issued a general “try every web browser for two weeks and see how you feel” challenge, with the promise that I’d participate myself and report the results. In the spirit of recycling I’m going to reuse the old buzz-line –

The Buzz: Web Browsers are all the same. They are merely a decorative wreath of menus that surround my precious websites.

 

The Anti-Buzz: Even though it might not always be a “big deal”, the inner workings of each browser can affect your experience.

 

Why: Web Browsers are more like an Operating System that crawls the Internet instead of your hard drive, and the Internet is up for interpretation.

If you really want the full story, read the previous article. For now, the market share numbers have changed in just two months.

As of September, 2010:

Microsoft Internet Explorer – 49.8%
Mozilla Firefox – 29.9%
Google Chrome – 11.4%
Apple Safari – 5.5%
Opera – 1.6%

Not a big change since last time, but again this is only two months. The biggest jump upward is Google’s Chrome browser, while Microsoft’s Explorer continues a steady decline but still maintains a considerable lead over all the others.

So how was my experience giving each browser a fair shake? Has my favorite been dethroned? Is Internet Explorer really that bad? Read on!

First but not least …

An admission up front: I didn’t quite live up to my end of the bargain. One of the five major browsers didn’t get a fair trial, and that was Apple’s Safari. The reason’s are thus:

1) I spend a good deal of my waking hours programming, or logging remotely onto Unix systems for work, school and teaching.
2) Safari is not available in Linux.

So you’ll have to go by my assessment from last time: Safari has a similar interface to Chrome, (Chrome is actually mimicking Safari, to be fair to Apple), and seems to do a superior job of playing media. So if you like Chrome and watch a lot of YouTube or play a lot of browser games, then Safari might be the browser for you. As a dentist, I’m wondering if you want the YouTube/Gaming browser in your office. I suppose it comes down to how productive you expect your front desk to be.

Now, you’ll note that Internet Explorer is not available in Linux either, but my time spent in Windows was so infrequent that I made sure to spend all of my Windows browsing time giving Internet Explorer an honest try. Which brings us to the first big question:

Is Internet Explorer really that bad?

And the answer is easy: No. Internet Explorer is a fine browser. My experience with it proved that much has been improved since my last use. Of course, things are a little homogenized right now. The rudiments of every browser’s interface is about the same: Opera’s tabs with Chrome’s “tab +” button, surrounded by varying amounts of baggage. So yes, it might be that Explorer only just meets the minimum style requirements of a good browser, but hey, it does meet them. Every anti-Microsoft tech geek out there is lying to you if they say Internet Explorer isn’t a good browser.

However, what also isn’t a lie is that the other four options still seem like a better choice to me. The sore thumb for me here is the old-fashioned download interface. Every time you download something in IE you get a separate window that tracks the progress of the download. This is a hold over from the 1990’s when every little thing had to be in it’s own window. This approach seemed natural back when browsers didn’t have multiple tabs per window, but now it just seems archaic.

On a positive note, one thing that often gets missed in discussions about IE is that it has a very robust and well-organized approach to bookmarks. It might be old-fashioned as well, but I think it’s the best way to go: a customizable menu, with submenus, that you can easily add to. It’s flexible and easy to understand.

Fans of Firefox will point out that their browser does the same thing, and it’s true, it does. So Firefox and IE have a tie here, but I will still go on the record as admitting that IE is at least the best at something. There might be an even better option somewhere between the classic approach to bookmarks and the new-fangled way Chrome/Safari do it, but for now I’m throwing my lot in with the Firefox/Explorer paradigm where bookmarks are concerned.

Opera: Has Chrome been dethroned as my favorite?

It might only be temporary, but for now, yes. After going back to my old favorite, I found it hard to leave. Opera has not sat on its laurels. It rightfully still owns the “cutting-edge” title, offering features that simply don’t exists elsewhere, and it manages to be feature-rich without feeling bloated, slow, or bogged down with an intimidating interface. Opera is ground-zero for a lot of browser conveniences that we come to take for granted.

However, that is a double-edged sword, as a lot of Opera’s features belong in the “that’s nice, but do I really need it?” bin. Unlike my last stint with Opera, I did bother to learn how to use their mouse gestures this time. They are easy to use, and yet they feel less intuitive than keyboard shortcuts, but this might be an “old dog, new tricks” scenario. Opera fanatics insist that mouse gestures are mana from heaven, so as long as you feel up for reading a manual on how to use this browser to its fullest, you just might find it to be your favorite.

The interface is a comfortable balance between Chrome’s minimalism and the Firefox/Explorer menu bonanza. What might be of most interest to the casual user is the new “Speed Dial” option that feels like a more flexible version of the Safari/Chrome dashboard that pops up with each new tab. Opera also manages bookmarks closer to the traditional style. It might be gimmicky to say that Opera straddles the line between Chrome/Safari simplicity and Explorer/Firefox robustness, but I think its new design philosophy is such that it is trying to be the best of both worlds and in my opinion it succeeds most of the time.

I also prefer Opera’s method of saving passwords, which is that they are saved locally and you can easily enter them instantly with a keyboard-shortcut, (ctrl-enter). I prefer this method because it works with every sort of website, (Because the browser is just remembering and entering text on command). Similar conveniences are offered for filling out forms – enter your personal information into the browser once and it will try to auto-complete forms for you when you fill them out. A very nice feature, and well-implemented.

I’m not without criticism. I really do not like that the browser’s default behavior is to ask where I want to save every file I download. It slows down the process and feels clunky. Also, the browser can take a while to start up sometimes. I did say it does not feel bloated, and I meant it, but it’s not the smallest piece of software in the world either.

About Google Chrome

Chrome starts up fast, renders fast, and downloads fast. Well, it doesn’t actually download faster, but you will spend less time downloading files because the interface is so clean. Chrome’s approach to keeping you informed about your downloads and giving you access to newly downloaded files is far and away my favorite, and forcing myself to play with other browsers really made me miss it.

Chrome’s market share is growing because the browser is built for accommodating all the normal day-to-day browsing that most people want to do. Sometimes it’s interface will feel lacking, and sometimes it will behave strangely, but most of the time Chrome provides the most pleasant experience for whatever it is you are doing on the web. The minimal interface leaves more space to actually view the pages you have pulled up. Quietly, I think these larger pages are what make Chrome so attractive to its growing audience.

I feel the “favorites” button is almost too inconspicuous and unintuitive, which leads me to my belief that the Bookmarks experience is better on older browsers. Google’s placement of the “stop” button is also inconvenient, (such that many users think it doesn’t even exist). I think it is a mistake to place it so far away from every other navigation button.

What you get in Chrome is a very nice, simple, well-designed browser, but what you don’t get are many features, customization options, or control over your experience. Most people won’t care – most people just want to browse the web and forget about features, and Chrome does a very good job of staying out of your way.

The Darling

I said it last time: Firefox is often a good option for “your first browser after you stop using Internet Explorer” and this is because the interface is about the same. If you are comfortable with IE, you are comfortable with Firefox. Firefox boasts similar compatibility, especially now that its market-share rivals Internet Explorer and most websites are forced to comply with its standards as well. I also said it last time: this is probably the most well-rounded browser, not really the best at anything, just very very good at everything.

One thing I often forget about Firefox is the plug-in options. The browser is tremendously customizable and has a huge library of plug-ins so you can modify it to your heart’s content. Firefox is the geek’s favorite for this reason. If you’re the sort who wants your browser to have a learning curve, you can either delve into Opera’s immense language of shortcuts, or you can get your fingernails dirty exploring Firefox plug-ins.

Even if you want things simple, Firefox is usually a crowd pleaser. The interface is traditional, yet not over-bearing. If you are at a loss, figuring out how to use a feature or change an option in Firefox is usually pretty easy. Most everything is still in standard menus and clearly labeled.

Like IE, it can be hard to explain what makes Firefox special, but also like IE, it comes with all the advantages of familiarity.

In these last weeks were there any others who tried out browsers that were new to them? It’d be great to hear from you if you did!

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{ 2 comments }

Larry Emmott October 12, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I have tried IE, Firefox and Chrome. Like a frightened puppy seeking a familiar home I returned to IE.

Andrew Emmott October 15, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I suppose for the dentist/officemanager/business-person who is really concerned about their employees wasting time playing browser games, I will confess that Opera seems to dislike websites that have lots of interactive scripts running at once. In my reevaluation period, this never came up and then just this last week I was punished for it twice.

It is worth pointing out that of the five listed browsers, Opera definitely has the worst compatibility.

However, this means Opera can be a good choice if you want to enforce a no-fun policy in your office. As programmers like to say: “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

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