All Browsers Are Not Created Equal

March 11, 2010

I used to be among the the group of Internet users who didn't understand the importance of selecting a web browser. At the time, I was entirely dedicated to Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer ... 6. My transition in 2007 to Mac and Safari came from necessity. I was enrolled in a Digital Art class, and every machine in the lab ran OS X. I wasn't particularly concerned I had to use Safari, but I noticed IE's absence.

Toff QuoteLater, at my first job out of school, web developers on my team jokingly scolded me for continuing to use Internet Explorer. When I asked for explanations, it seemed they could never back it up. When I asked what browser I should use instead, they resoundingly answered Firefox.

Now, in my current role as a Drupal developer at Digett, I know first hand why browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are superior, especially to any browser that is outdated.

What is a Browser?

The best definition of a web browser I've come across is straight from the Official Google Blog. Jason Toff explains, "A web browser is a program on your computer that allows you to visit websites. You get to your web browser by clicking on its icon." Hopefully, at least one the following icons will look familiar:

Browser Icons

Toff continues, "The web browser is the most important piece of software on your computer because every webpage runs through it. A faster web browser means that you'll save time on every webpage you open."

Why Browsers Matter

Modern browsers work and look better

The web is evolving, and the technologies that control how websites perform are changing, too. Javascript, jQuery, and Flash are prevalant in modern web design. Certain browsers are better equipped to handle these programming languages. In fact, IE6 has difficulty outputting javascript altogether. The browser is working overtime, meaning your browsing quality is reduced.

Text is also rendered differently across browsers. If you have bad vision, I encourage you to download a different browser than the one you're using and compare the same website side by side. Chances are, you'll notice one browser produces a smoother, easier-to-read text.

Outdated browsers hinder web standards advancement

Most internet users don't know that professional internet agencies and web developers undergo a rigorous process called "Browser Testing" every time a site is launched. At Digett, we browser test for 8-10 browsers, including FF3 for Mac, FF3 for PC, FF3 for Mac, FF2 for PC, IE8, IE7, IE6, Safari, Chrome for Mac, and Chrome for PC. This process can take anywhere from 8-40 hours, depending on the scope of the project.

The craziest thing about browser testing is that, generally, testing for every browser except IE7 and IE6 usually takes around one third of the time it takes to complete the entire process. This means that if a site requires a total of 24 hours for browser testing, 16 of those hours will be spent on IE7 and IE6, mostly because they are degraded and don't comply with current web standards.

Some browsers are faster and more secure

Page load time, image load time, history load time, CSS rendering, and script handling also vary across browsers. Sometimes a slow-loading webpage is more than just your internet connection.

And any time you encounter problems with your machine's security, it's a red flag! If you're not updating your browser each and every time you are prompted to do so, you are missing vital security patches, putting your computer at risk.

Add-ons

If you've ever wanted to boost your productivity on the web, or just make browsing a more enjoyable experience, you should look into the different types of add-ons different browsers offer. An extensible browser is important to me, because many of the extensions I use on a daily basis, such as Firebug, increase my job efficiency.

Five Signs You Need a New Browser

  1. Your browser keeps crashing.
  2. Your machine is contracting viruses.
  3. Web pages look a bit "off" or do not perform as expected.
  4. Most sites are slow to load.
  5. You are using IE6!

My career ambitions led me to take interest in web browsers, and if not for that, I suppose I'd still, unknowingly and contentedly, be using an outdated version of IE6. I wonder what it might take to make an average internet user (who typically doesn't know what a web browser is) equally aware ...

If you don't know already, find out what browser you're using, and please upgrade if necessary!