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“B” is for: Browser

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Perhaps you’re a Chrome-lover. Or maybe you didn’t know there was life beyond the default Internet Explorer that came installed on your computer. The reality is, you could enhance your entire internet experience just by changing the browser that you use.

What is a Browser?

In the simplest of terms, a browser is a software application that connects to the internet and displays information from the web.

There are numerous browsers to chose from these days! The most popular are Internet Explorer (IE), Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera. Some browsers are strictly proprietary to one company like Internet Explorer by Microsoft, or Safari by Apple, yet others are open-source projects.

You’re not limited to just the Top 5 mentioned above. There are actually quite a few others out there. Lesser-known browsers such as Midori, Konqueror, SeaMonkey Navigator (based off of Mozilla source code), and Torch (based off of Chromium source code) are just a few alternatives that exist. There is even a web browser designed to be used by children with autism, the ZAC browser. Who would’ve thought? This just goes to show that not every web browser is created equal.

As of March 2015, Microsoft released a new browser, Microsoft Edge, which will replace Internet Explorer as the default browser on Windows 10.

Differences Between Browsers

I doubt you’ve ever sat and pondered the inner workings of your web browser. But how a browser is built is what makes each one different.

As mentioned earlier, a browser is a software program. The part of the software doing all of the hard work within the browser is the “rendering engine”. The rendering engine is what takes code that is used to program web pages (HTML, CSS, javascript, etc) and displays or renders it on the screen. It’s the driving force of a browser, just like the engine of a car.

There are many different rendering engines. The most common ones are: Gecko (used by Firefox), Webkit (used by Safari) and Trident (used by Internet Explorer). The new Microsoft Edge browser uses a proprietary layout engine that is based off of Trident. Opera and Chrome use a engine called Blink (a fork of Webkit). These rendering engines are what account for differences in display and performance between browsers. The same website may look or behave differently on a different browser.

Dealing with Differences

Since browsers are software applications, they can get bugs just like any other program. Many people are surprised when this happens, but every browser is vulnerable in its own way. Sometimes these bugs can affect how pages are rendered, and often in unpredictable ways.

To be a web developer is to handle the complexities of designing for different browsers to maintain a consistent experience… not always an easy task, particularly as the number of devices and browser versions is constantly growing.

For a long time, there were two categories of browsers: 1) those that upheld web standards; and 2) Internet Explorer. Since Internet Explorer was not standards-compliant — meaning it didn’t adhere to the standard set of rules for displaying webpages — it would sometimes render unexpected results when loading web pages. In this case, it did not matter if the developer had written the code correctly or not, the page would still load in a distorted manner.

Due to this issue with Internet Explorer, developers had to figure out and implement special “hacks” just to get the same website to work properly in Internet Explorer, often doubling production time just to cater to a browser that used the power of its large market share to disregard the rules. This led to a large backlash against Internet Explorer from web developers who were frustrated and tired of this issue. To this day, it still leaves some with negative feelings towards the browser.

On a positive note, there have been marked improvements in recent versions of IE and now Microsoft Edge that should help create a better experience for both users and developers.

Is One Browser Better Than Another?

If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have pleaded on my hands and knees for you to abandon Internet Explorer for the ‘superior’ browser, Firefox. I despised IE with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Despite my developer bias, I wasn’t being totally prejudiced. Internet Explorer was proven to be slower and less secure than its counterparts, and Mozilla Firefox had an outstanding reputation for its privacy and security features. Today, however, there is not necessarily a better browser, it just depends on your needs. Factors to evaluate in your browser choice include:

  • Page-rendering speed
  • Performance reliability when using media or multiple tabs
  • Privacy and security
  • Browser extensions and customization
  • Whatever is easiest and most intuitive for your browsing habits

Remember that each browser will fare a bit differently in each of these areas, so what works best for someone else may not be the best choice for you.

Recent data from the U.S. Digital Analytics Program shows that Google Chrome is the most popular browser, followed by Internet Explorer, then Safari (most notably due to high mobile usage on Apple’s iOS).

Since most browsers are free downloads, what’s to stop you from trying a new one out? (Concerned about your bookmarks? Don’t be. Browsers allow you to easily export your saved bookmarks from one browser and import into another. Here is a helpful guide for Chrome users.) Test drive a different browser and see if it is faster or more intuitive than the one you’ve been using.  Below you will find direct links to some browser download sites. Happy web surfing!

Before You Double Click that Browser Icon…

Keep in mind that regardless of the browser you use, you’ll want to keep it updated. Rendering differences will be most apparent in older browsers as opposed to more recent ones. If you don’t update, you could also miss out on the latest and greatest interactive features employed by today’s websites that require modern browsers in order to function correctly. That, along with security patches (THE most important reason!), are reasons enough for keeping your browsers up-to-date.

So what are you waiting for? Go try out a new browser, and let me know if you find a new favorite!

Nyla Smith

Nyla Smith

Nyla is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 15 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton Roads, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.

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