Saturday, June 12, 2010

What do you look for in a browser?

The release of FireFox 1.0 back in 2004 literally reignited the Browser Wars. A certain operating system company may deny it but reality would soon give hand them quite the slap in the face. Within the next half decade other's have joined the fight, most notably Safari, Chrome, and even Opera. Netscape tried for a revival by piggybacking on FireFox's success but finally died sometime in 2008.

There are many, many other browsers out there of course, but the major competitors this time around are Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

With so many browsers out there and each with it's unique set of features, it can be overwhelming when time comes to choose your companion on your web travels.

Here's a few things I look for in a browser:

Speed - Web2.0 is pushing web technology similar to how games are pushing computer hardware. Speed is crucial and there's no doubt the incumbent is trailing while Chrome seems to be leading. New versions of various browsers tend to change the rankings, but Internet Explorer basically trails behind most of the time. It's also an incredible experience using a fast browser.

Resource efficiency - Nothing like a memory hog to spoil the fun. FireFox gets a lot of flak here, but they're constantly trying to cut down with each new release. Opera and Chrome seem the leaders here while Safari is in dreamland.

Security & Privacy - Private browsing (a.k.a Pr0n mode) has become a must-have feature for privacy reasons. It certainly helps me at work when I need to use the browser without disturbing the user's browsing history. Security is also a major consideration no thanks to widespread malware threats in recent times. Internet Explorer has improved in recent versions but maybe a more forceful approach is in order considering that Windows XP still refuses to die off after all these years.

UI design - The browser is a portal to the web hence it should make as much space available as is possible for web content. Chrome showed the way and FireFox, at least, seems to be learning the lessons. We'll know the results once FFx 4.0 is released. There's nothing like 10 toolbars taking up precious screen real estate. Thankfully, my computer runs Ubuntu and doesn't have the toolbar plague.

Those are the major points for me. Of course, running Linux means that Internet Explorer and Safari are hardly options which leaves me with 3 major browsers to choose from. I'm glad it's the better ones. Mostly I've used FireFox as it's the default browser in Ubuntu but I've dabbled in Chrome and a little Opera on the side. I'd prefer using the default browser since maintenance then tends to be simpler and less problematic. FireFox 3.6 has given me only occasional small problems so far which is little motivation to move.

What do you look for in a browser? Extensions? Standards compliance? An open source development model? I'd like to hear it.