At first glance, your choice of web browser doesn’t really seem like it would be related to web design, but it actually matters. We’ll illustrate it thusly: Say you receive instructions in Japanese for an important task that you have to accomplish. You need to understand the instructions in English. What would you do? Well, you’ll pick the best translator for the job, or else you may not understand the instructions properly.
Likewise, everything online is written in various programming languages, like HTML, PHP and ASP. Your web browser acts as the translator, reinterpreting those languages into something that you’re able to understand and use. If your browser doesn’t know how to translate those languages properly, you can’t view and use the internet in the right way.
Dovetailing back to website design, you can have the most modern, well-maintained, up-to-date website made for your business, but if your web browser doesn’t know how to behave itself, you won’t be able to enjoy it.
With that in mind, let’s go through the major browsers and see what they do well and what they do wrong.
1) Internet Explorer. There are three major versions of Internet Explorer still in use: Internet Explorer 6, version 7, and version 8. If you’re using Internet Explorer 6, stop what you’re doing and upgrade it right now. We’re serious.
The problem with Internet Explorer 6 (or IE6) is that it was made at a time when Microsoft had no competition in the browser market and there were really no standards for what constitutes a good page. The internet had been in a bit of a wild-and-woolly phase for quite a while, and Microsoft wanted to let everyone make webpages, regardless of how well they know how to design or code one.
This led to a lot of problems. IE6 was built to accept so many bad coding practices that a lot of web design companies had to make sites that would only function in IE6. More importantly, IE6 had virtually no virus protection, and since it had to accept just about anything, it was extremely easy to hijack and create major problems in Windows.
How bad was IE6? It was so bad that recently, a web development company held a funeral for IE6. It could have been viewed as a harmless little joke except for the fact that Microsoft actually sent flowers to the event. When the company that made a product is glad that it’s dead, maybe that’s a sign that you shouldn’t use it.
IE7 and IE8 fare better, especially IE8. IE8 is actually one of the more secure browsers, and actually adheres to web standards fairly well. It’s not very customizable, but it works pretty well. Unfortunately, the stink of IE6 hovers over future versions of Internet Explorer, and it will take a long time for Microsoft to clear it away.
2) Mozilla Firefox. It’s time for a little web history. The very first internet browser was called “Mosaic” and was released in 1993. It flamed out in 1994, but the core of the browser team moved on to create Netscape Navigator. Netscape Navigator was Internet Explorer’s major rival until Microsoft crushed it, and by 1998, it was all but dead.
From the ashes of these two older browsers came a new contender. Mozilla was a non-profit organization that took the old code from Netscape and created Firefox as an alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. It’s been plugging along ever since, and it’s great.
Mozilla Firefox excelled in a few major points. One, it provided tabbed browsing at a time when no one else was really doing such a thing. Two, it provided for extensions and plug-ins to customize your browsing experience. Three, since it wasn’t the most popular browser for a long time, it was relatively free from intrusions. Four, it adhered to web standards, finally giving web design firms a bit of a base-line browser to use and trust.
However, Firefox has recently run into problems. Since it’s a non-profit organization, it doesn’t have really deep pockets to stay ahead of the curve. It’s especially become a big deal now that Microsoft has gotten its act together and Google has entered the fray. Also, since it’s now one of the most popular browsers, hackers have started finding security holes in it. It’s still a very secure browser, but cracks are showing.
The good news is for those who want to get out from Microsoft’s thumb, Mozilla Firefox has become the de facto standard for web designers and browser enthusiasts. If you need to switch browsers, Firefox is probably the safest contender.
3) Google Chrome. Google made waves by creating their own browser, and early results were mixed. It seemed to be all right, but like all new products, there was some tweaking that needed to be done. Certain pages didn’t display properly, and it wasn’t very customizable.
That was about two years ago, and Google Chrome is now one of the most stable browsers around. Google threw their considerable weight behind the project, upped their advertising budget for it, and threw open the doors for developers who wanted to make add-ons and plugins for it. It’s since become a little bit of a folk-hero upstart among browsers.
In fact, it’s hard to find faults with it. The only real fault Google Chrome has is that some pages may still throw up a little blurb about using a more major browser. It usually happens because the site may not recognize Chrome yet, but it’s becoming less and less of a problem. As Chrome grows in popularity, more sites simply have to recognize it. Besides, since Chrome also adheres to web standards, those sites will usually display correctly anyway, making it a moot point.
We didn’t touch on some of the other browsers, like Opera, SeaMonkey, Lynx, or Safari. For the most part, your choice will be between the three big ones you see up up there. Other browsers aren’t simply popular enough to have any influence on the internet.
So there’s a brief run through the glorious world of web browsers. What browser do you use? Leave your comments below.