Browser wars… 2011

[sc:software-category ]Way back in the early days of the Internet, back before the web even existed, people used text based systems to get information from the net.  Newsgroups, e-mail, etc. all thrived in this kind of environment and the first reaction I had to Netscape 1.0 was “Why would anyone want to do that?”.

Now, clearly, everyone wants to do exactly that Smile.  So having lived through multiple rounds of the browser wars, how does the current one stack up?

There are currently five (yes, that’s a lot) major browsers for Windows:

  • Internet Explorer
  • Firefox
  • Opera
  • Chrome
  • Safari

That’s an astounding number really and it doesn’t take in to consideration the multitude of others that exist, but just don’t have the market share to be considered here (some might argue that Opera doesn’t, but it’s my blog so live with it Winking smile).

Out of these five browsers, there are actually only 4 engines in use (Chrome/Safari are both built on WebKit) and each has been trying to out perform each other over the last few years.

Over the last few months, IE, Firefox and Opera have all released new, significant, versions of their browsers, and well, Chrome releases one every couple of days don’t they?

Over the last several years, I have focused on using three browsers:

  • The Daily Driver: Opera
  • The Convertible: Firefox
  • The Classic: IE

Opera is what I use to do the vast majority of my browsing with, by default Javascript is turned off and browsing the web is fast, secure and reliable.

However, sometimes, there’s just a site that doesn’t work in Opera, I won’t say who’s fault it is, but Opera’s commitment to standards does suggest a culprit Winking smile

When this occurs, Firefox becomes the next choice and finally IE if that fails as well.

When Chrome came out I pulled down a copy to see what it was like, but I just didn’t need a fourth browser so while I do keep an eye on it’s development, it’s not used in my day to day browsing.  Safari is similar to Chrome in this regard, it’s not good enough to replace any of the others, and a fourth browser is overkill.

Opera 11

My first install of Opera was way back in version 3.1.  That was even before it was free, when I purchased a license it was so good. My how far it’s come since then.

Today’s Opera is a far cry from back then, but the core values have remained the same.  Fast, stable and standards compliant.  These core values have proved to be invaluable to Opera’s development and has created a browser unlike any other.

IE just doesn’t have the features and Firefox needs so many addon’s to get to it that it’s almost like a new browser.

Some of the features I use most in Opera include:

  • Tab groups
  • Site specific Javascript configuration
  • Search provides in the address bar
  • SpeedDial
  • Opera Link

But the list of features is truly astounding.

Onequirk I have with Opera is:

  • By default tabs do not show up in the Windows 7 taskbar.

Firefox 4

The just released Firefox 4 brings to the table a much needed visual update to the browser along with a host of under the hood improvements.

My browsing habits don’t really show off the updates they made under the hood, but boy is the interface a refreshing update.  Firefox 3 on Windows 7 looks very long in the tooth and the 4.0 update makes short work of that issue.

In general the upgrade process was without issue, however on one of my systems the upgrade failed to detect an incompatible theme I was using and let’s just say the result was… amusing Winking smile.

One of the best new features in Firefox 4 is the Sync feature.  Opera has had Link for quite a while and while using xmarks did the job, a fully integrated system in to the core software is nice.  Firefox actually goes one better than Opera in this case as the data is encrypted before it is sent to the servers so Mozilla cannot see the data that you store on their servers.

One of Firefox’s greatest strengths is its add-ons, here’s what I use with Firefox:

  • Adblock Plus
  • Add Bookmark Here 2
  • Flagfox
  • InstantFox
  • NoScript
  • SearchWith
  • Speed Dial
  • Tab Mix Plus
  • Tab Scope
  • text2link

As you can see, it takes quite a few add-ons to bring Firefox up to where Opera is by default.  This of course brings up my chief reason not to use Firefox as my default browser, the continual upgrade cycle.  It seems like every day I end up restarting Firefox to update one of the add-ons.

Two quirks I have with 4.0 are:

  • By default tabs do not show up in the Windows 7 taskbar.
  • The new “do not track” option is disabled by default.

Both of these defaults seem odd to me.

One of the big new features in 4.0 is the Tab Groups, but as I seldom have more than 3 tabs open at any given time in Firefox, I haven’t had much use for this yet.  I suspect if Firefox was my primary browser, this would be a must have feature, much like Opera’s.

Internet Explorer 9

Aaaahh, IE.  So warm and comforting to know you will never leave us! Winking smile

But IE9 is not like any other version of IE out there.  In fact its so good, its scary.

I started using the RC’s of IE9 several months ago and found it was a big improvement over IE8 and leaps and bounds of IE6 (which work still has me using).  The clean interface, reduced down to the bare minimum like Opera, Firefox and Chrome makes IE an actual contender again.

But if Firefox is burdened by too many add-ons, then IE is burdened by none at all.

IE9 seems downright spartan in comparison to Opera and with enough add-ons, Firefox.  There was noise at one point of IE being able to use Firefox add-ons but nothing seems to have come of that for the 9.0 release.

IE9 is a major step up, support for standards and a new clean interface make it good enough to complete in the new ware of 2011, but its limited options and lack of expansion do still make it feel like there’s a long way to go.

If we use the standard “3 versions to get it right” rule of thumb for Microsoft, then IE8 was version one(I don’t count IE7 here simply because it was clearly a desperate move to get ANYTHING to market after the long wait from IE6), IE9 is version two and what comes next will likely give everyone a run for their money.


In summary, the new browser wars are just getting started and this time it looks like the winners will be the users.

I am starting to think that I can finally move to just two browsers, certainly Opera is going to remain my primary browser, but perhaps IE can be sole secondary browser… Nah, I guess Firefox will have to remain for a while yet.

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Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.

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Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.

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