If graphical browsers were actual people, the oldest of them wouldn’t be old enough to legally drink, at least not yet. NCSA Mosiac, which grew into Netscape and almost in parallel into Microsoft Internet Explorer is a bit over seventeen years old. In technology terms that’s actually quite well aged, and browsers have evolved significantly over that time. We’ve seen Netscape rise and fall, Internet Explorer take a market dominating position only to lose significant share to Mozilla Firefox and to a lesser extent Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Opera’s browsers.
Browser choice is a bit like choosing “your” brand of car. There’s a lot of attachment to whatever you’re used to, and getting out of the habit of just clicking on the same icon every time you want to check out the Web can be tough. It’s a worthwhile task, however, as the feature set of each browser can be surprisingly different. It can also reveal some interesting things you may not have considered about how and why you browse. Given that all of the major browsers are free and generally they’re not huge downloads, there’s no implicit reason why you can’t have multiple browsers installed.
It’s very much a personal taste test kind of thing. I try to switch browsers every once in a while if only to stay current with the market, but that’s not something you particularly need to worry about. What can be worth considering are the individual features that each browser offers.
Microsoft often throws some interesting tech ideas into each new release of Internet Explorer, although I’ve got to admit I don’t use it all that much. That’s more to do with doing most of my writing work on a Mac, however. Microsoft abandoned IE for Mac with version 5, whereas the current PC version is IE 8. Even Microsoft doesn’t recommend anyone use older versions of IE for security reasons, but when I am working on a PC I give IE a spin to see what’s fresh and new. As a Mac user you might expect I’d use Safari, but beyond its Top Sites splash screen — very handy if you repeatedly visit the same sets of Web sites — I’ve never found it that compelling. Likewise Opera, although the company’s mobile versions of its product do run well on smartphone platforms such as Blackberry and surprisingly even Apple’s iPhone.
Firefox is beloved by many for its extensibility. Some of its features are a little silly, like the Persona themes introduced in the most recent version, but other extensions are distinctly handy. Google’s Chrome is fast catching up to Firefox in the extensions stakes, and at the time of writing is my browser of choice simply because it’s so particularly fast.
That could change. Despite the browser being “free”, the browser wars are far from over. Thankfully, the casualties are usually just code, and the cost of entering this particular war only involve a little bit of download time.