27 July, 2009

Browser Wars III - Revenge of the ...?

Since Microsoft killed off Netscape (Browser Wars, the original), most users were not aware of any alternatives until Firefox (FF) came on the scene (Mozilla vs. Godzilla - Browser Wars II). Actually, there was a 3rd browser that was and is quite good, Opera. More recently, Google announce their own web browser, Chrome, while Mozilla had released Firefox 3 (now FF 3.5 is available) and Apple released Safari 4.

Since Microsoft released Internet Explorer 5 (IE5), I've been quite unhappy with the browser. It has suffered from security holes (predominately due to ActiveX), proprietary solutions (ActiveX again raises its ugly head), and slowness. I've also come to really like Firefox due to its extensibility with Add-ons.

With the popularity of Firefox and now the additions of Chrome and Safari, you could say that Netscape is finally getting their revenge, sort of. Since Firefox came out of the aftermath of Nestcape and the additional fire power of Google and Apple, Microsoft is in for a fight like none before (err, except search, but that's another story).

As users and businesses, why do we care what browse I use or my customers use? I already mentioned my reasons for not liking IE and liking FF, but it doesn't end there. Google and Apple have seemed to pass everyone with the fastest browsers, using the WebKit guts and their own JavaScript engines. Opera is still in the game with their new Opera Unite product. And then there are many sites that require IE, too.
It's all about the experience!
As a user, I am impatient, so I get annoyed when a site is slow. This has led me to avoid IE (and also why I use FoxIt to read PDFs). Some companies that I deal with have forced me to use IE, and therefore have led me to also dislike them too. I don't want to have to run more than one web browser; at work I have to run Internet Explorer, so I have two going at a minimum and 3, 4, or 5, when testing our website.

As a web developer for my organization, I need to decide what browsers I will test for, and what browsers I'll support. My engineering team who develops our products has the same challenges. If we leave out a browse, our customers will blame us. To add a browser, will increase our development costs.

Let me close by saying, I love the new browsers; I love the pressure it has put on Microsoft to either fix IE or get out of the game. What I don't like is having to run multiple browser to get the full web experience I want. Currently Google and Mozilla seem content on co-existing, but how long can it really last? Opera Unite is offering some compelling options not seen in any other browser, but how much longer can they survive? Five years from now... I think we'll have 3 players: Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Until then, Browser Wars III is on, and it promises to have a lot of carnage.

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