Saturday, 11 July 2009

Web Browsers

A non-Office 2010 moment

Browser makers are falling over themselves these days to come up with the fastest and safest browser on the market. As browser users, who don’t actually pay anything, we can only benefit from the competition.

Browser has we know them today started in 1994 with Netscape Navigator and, although there were alternatives, it was the preferred way to browse the internet (series of tubes). With Windows 95, (Chicago, all Microsoft products have codenames though I’ve never discovered what Internet Explorer’s was although I do know Netscape Navigator’s, Mozilla) Microsoft began its almost complete domination of internet browsing. The Mac didn’t get its own browser, Safari, until around 2003.

There are five browsers today that are worth mentioning and I have all five running on this machine and to be honest there isn’t a slow one that you can just eliminate from the argument. They all load pages in from 2 to 4 seconds. I’ve tested all five with a stopwatch timer on this webpage.

This page is set to show five posts per page, because of the number of images I use, and knowing full well the internet (series of tubes) isn’t the same everywhere, I would prefer less but five is the minimum.

My use of the term ‘series of tubes’ is, of course, a reference to one of the United States’ former internet regulators (Ted Stevens) who shared his profound understanding of internet technology during a radio interview with the following gem:

“Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material”.

So, having run the test a few times I have to say there was no clear winner or loser. The times I recorded were from the first run with Google Chrome first at 2.533 and, not surprisingly, last place was Internet Explorer 8 with 3.602, Opera and Firefox were both under 3 seconds while Safari was just over.

Opera 9.6

I downloaded the latest Opera browser for the simple reason that it keeps appearing on lists of favourite or least favourite browsers and I didn’t want to compare the others without it. My last encounter with Opera was back in the day (90’s) when it had an advertisement bar at the top which you could remove by subscription. Opera 9, (9.64) like the other four, does what a browser should so the only criteria I can find to eliminate three of the five are personal preference and appearance.

When I get my hands on a new browser, updated or otherwise, the first thing I do is get rid of all the trimmings. I don’t need or like toolbars, add-ons, buttons and the like. All I need, or want, is the absolute minimum browser interface. With Opera I can’t remove the Menu bar though I can remove the Tabs bar, without which I’d have no idea how many open Tabs there are! The Tabs are not pretty in Opera, in fact they’re ugly as sin, although the Tab review thumbnails their job.

Everyone should have at least two browsers and although I will browse on just about anything, and also the fact that there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with Opera I can’t see myself using it whilst there are so many exceptional browsers to choose from.

Safari 4

Safari has an uphill struggle too; the first question I asked Safari 4 is “where are the Tabs?” Then I see the folders, I click News dropdown and see ‘Open in Tabs’, there they are. I click ‘Open in Tabs’ and all nine News pages open at once.

The good news is, unlike Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera, the individual Tabs show in the Windows 7 (I assume it’s the same in Vista) preview thumbnails and Windows Peak.

Top Sites looks fine but I really wanted individual Tabs. The Bookmark browser is really cute but unnecessary. A few less gimmicks and a few more basics would put Safari in the top three instead of it being a mostly Mac users browser.

Got News

Firefox 3.5

The problem I have with Firefox is a perception issue. It is a product like any other, if it accepted that I could give it the respect it probably deserves. We needed an alternative to Internet Explorer, and thankfully got more than one. But, the tag/label of being open source, alternative and free makes me suspicious when browsers are free to begin with. Yes, the Netscape Navigator source code, on which it was originally based, was released after AOL bought the Netscape brand name; and yes it’s free and was a much faster, less resource hungry alternative to Internet Explorer when we really needed one. An open source project is, almost by definition, done with passion and usually underfunded.

To date the pricing hasn’t been fixed for Office 2010 but when it is, and however much it is, if you compare it to the OpenOffice project then you’ll see the difference between a commercial venture and an open source project. Mozilla Firefox is a commercial venture.

The people I know who use Firefox say that it works fine until you install too many add-ons and accessories and then it slows. The Firefox 3.5 Menu bar can’t be hidden but apart from that the interface is clean and efficient, worthy of its second place in the browser users’ statistics.

Next, Internet Explorer 8 & Google Chrome...

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