Choosing a web browser - why can't I just put up with the default

Posted on Mon 20 October 2008 in Internet

My first web browser was Netscape 1.1

I remember sitting in the training rooms of GEC Marconi Avionics sometime in the late 90's, going through the self study 'How to use the internet' course. They were good courses, I spent many evenings learning better driving skills (spotting the hazards) and the most time consuming course of all - how to type. Still, now I can type almost as fast I think. The downside of which is my ramblings tend to digress very quickly, so getting back on track, I used Netscape 1.1 to search for 'porsche', because that was the suggested search using Altavista. We're in pre-google days here, Internet explorer may have been around but wasn't on the work computers.

Then we move to today and the browser of choice is..... well, I can't make up my mind. I once preferred Netscape, eventually moved onto Internet Explorer. Then Firefox became my friend until the last year or so where it seemed to keep crashing every time I closed it. Now we have google Chrome. So, time to try them all and see what I think.

Start with.... Internet Explorer.
Always there, installed on my laptop. It does the job but I've never quite got used to the new layout of IE7. Tabs were a great improvement, it was those that attracted me to firefox a few years ago. I always have more than one window open, and I much prefer to have them all grouped into one program on my task bar.

Firefox
Firefox is great. I prefer the open source angle. I found it easier to use and faster than IE6 (but that could just be perception). I liked the tabs and it was my browser of choice for a few years. Unfortunately it started crashing on exit. Solution was probably just to uninstall then reinstall from scratch but I never got round to it. Still on my list of things to do.

Google Chrome.
Google should stick to making money from searches. The browser is rubbish. OK, a little harsh. The launch marketing was very clever. The design principles are great (single bar for search or URL input was ever so easy to use). The automatic home page creation of most visited sites and recently closed tabs made usability a breeze. Being able to drag a tab into it's own window even had it's uses. Unfortunately there are a few bugs to iron out. Like the "view source" command that should show you the source HTML of the page but actually requests the page again so you get a different source. I haven't got all the plugins working correctly either, both flash and quicktime seem to have issues. Still, for the basic web browsing tasks it's OK. Comparable to firefox I'd say. It does win the battle on leaving the largest viewable page area, with it's ultra minimalist interface. When/if they fix issues like the 'view source' command it may well become my browser of choice, although by then the other players will no doubt improve too.

Safari.
Mac lovers are taking over the PC world it seems. Apple pushed the download through an iTunes update (only got iTunes for wining an iPod). I'm using Safari this afternoon for this blog post. I find the page a little more blurry than all the others. I think there is some ClearText Font Smoothing (insert correct term here if you know it!) but I haven't found the setting to reduce it's smoothing. Coming from the land of Mac, this also has a few things done a little differently to the PC way. Not right or wrong, just different. Like the close button being to the left of the name instead of the right. I'm not a fan of the grey shading style of the browser either, but it's something I'll get used to.

So, when it comes to desktop browsers which will I settle on?
None of them. I like things from each so will be keeping them all around for different reasons. Use them all for their strengths and switch between them to avoid their weaknesses.