Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Browser Wars: What Browser Do You Use?

I started using Netscape about 15 years ago when it first evolved from Mosaic. I kept using the latest versions until just a few years ago when I switched to Firefox—the offspring of Netscape (they use similar Mozilla engines). I never liked Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) because it didn't work well on some of the scientific websites. Safari is okay but not as easy to use as Firefox, in my opinion. I'm not that familiar with Opera. (Most bloggers have to have several different browsers in order to make sure their blogs look good for all readers.)

Firefox is about to release a new version and this event is covered on the Scientific American website [The latest version of the Firefox Web browser: Fast and secure]. It's interesting that Scientific American would consider this a newsworthy event. I assume it's because so many scientists are using Firefox?

Anyway, that's not what I want to talk about today. Here's part of the SciAm article.
Where would we be without the ubiquitous Web browser? More than a decade ago, Netscape, AOL and its ilk helped transform the Internet from simply a network of networks to the backbone of modern society by giving users access to anything and everything that was searchable. In typical fashion, Microsoft soon took hold of the Web browser market with Internet Explorer, which chased its competitors down to single-digit market share and borderline irrelevance.

That's the way it was until 1998, when Netscape (battered by Microsoft in the browser wars) decided to share its Mozilla browser software with the public for free. To make a long story short, the public tweaked and improved the software over time until, in 2003, the Firefox Web browser was born. Today, there are about 180 million people using Firefox to navigate the Web, according to Mozilla Corp., formed three years ago to oversee a number of public software projects.

With the Firefox version 3.0 (the latest) only a few weeks away from launching, the Web browser poses a serious threat to Internet Explorer's dominance. As of April, about 40 percent of Web surfers were using Firefox compared with 55 percent relying on Internet Explorer to navigate the Web, according to W3Schools, a Web site that tracks browser usage. Not bad, considering Microsoft held nearly 69 percent of the market at the end of 2005, the first year Firefox started its rise to prominence. (Firefox, which runs on the Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems, was used by about 24 percent of Web surfers at that time.)
One of the advantages of Firefox is that there are many second party add-ons because of the open source nature of the browser engine. Some of these widgets are pretty useful.

I'm not too excited about the upcoming changes in the new version of Firefox but it looks like other people might be more impressed. The trend is clear. Firefox is on the verge of displacing IE from it's dominant position.

Here's the question. What browser do you use? You can answer in the poll found at the top of the left sidebar. Why do you like your browser?


  1. I like the tabbing function. I know that IE has it now, but I was already used to Firefox.

    I think the success of Firefox is tied to its connection with Google. Google definitely needed development access to a browser and Firefox, being open source, was a natural choice. This strong financial backing is something Netscape lacked.

  2. I like a) the plug ins. (I use adblocker and Flashgot.) b) I like the search bar, which I've added my favourite scholarly search engines into. c) I dislike IE's interface and d) I'm still annoyed at Microsoft for holding up the development of the browser for 6 years (via their monopolistic shenanigans)

    Still, it's only a browser.

  3. I used to use Avant, which I think was one of the first tabbed browsers. I'm on Firefox now. I did give IE7 a chance, but it sucks - open more than 3 tabs and the whole thing freezes. Still, it's better than IE6, which I am stuck on at work with no chance of an upgrade or installation of another browser (I've asked. Repeatedly).

  4. I am a Firefox user too, but open to all sides if something more convenient is coming along.

    I am excited about Firefox 3.0 not so much because of the new features, but more because of the greatly improved speed and memory footprint. As a forum admin on a high-traffic site and rss feed junkie I can have many tabs open on the same time which made firefox bog down considerably in terms of speed.

    I haven't yet switched to the new version mostly because not all plugins I grew accustomed to have yet been ported.

    Safari has nothing to offer others haven't done better yet, but Opera is also a great browser with many features built-in that you need plugins or external programs for in other browsers. But there are subtle details that hamper usability a bit for "power-users".

    E.g. you can't control how the next tab focuses when you close a tab. It will always open the last tab active, which is driving me nuts when I open thirty tabs from one page and wan to got through these tabs fast. While this is fixed in the last 9.5 beta, the beta has other problems that prevent production site use.
    Opera is also not playing nice with all the google tools and there is no google toolbar equivalent like there is for Firefox and IE.

  5. I started with Mosaic, way back ~ around 1993, when the SGI mailing list mentioned that there was this thing called a "web browser" available for the machine I was doing my dissertation work on. Since then I've used whatever was the default on my employers' Unix or Linux distro at the time (Netscape and its children). Which made it pretty natural to d/l Mozilla/Firefox to the Wintel boxes at home (and to loathe the corporate weenies who constructed internal websites which required IE eccentricities to display properly).

    Being an anti-MS bigot, I've never even touched IE, except when unavoidable. (And as soon as I figure out Linux replacements for the few Windoze apps I still use, my laptop is going that way....).

  6. I've been running the Firefox betas for a while and am quite impressed. They use a lot less memory and have been very fast, much faster than IE or Firefox 2. It's hard to say I'm "excited", but it removes several irritations.

    BTW: if you're using Google Analytics, you can get a rundown of the percentages of each browser that visitors use on your site. My blog is getting about 50% Firefox, so among a certain crowd it's definitely growing in popularity.

  7. As a Linux user I don't have to worry about that Internet Explorer garbage. I started using FireFox because of tabbed browsing, auto spell checking during text input, pop-up blocking, all the add-ons, etc.

    @Eamon Knight

    What Windows applications do you still need to use? I keep a dual boot Windows/Linux laptop because I realize that not everyone I interact with is 'Linux compliant', so I like to run my docs and presentations through Windows before sending them off to people like my Windows-using supervisor...

  8. I am using Firefox 3.0b5, which is the current version in Fedora 9. It seems a bit faster than v2, but it's got a few bugs that I hope will be cleared up by the final version. When I have two browser windows open, sometimes clicking on a link in one window makes the web page appear in the other window.

  9. I use a PC, so it was either Firefox or IE for me. IE languished for so long with security problems, giving me a virus that I could only get rid of by reformatting my harddrive. So, MS didn't really seem to care about the consumer. They had to wait for Firefox to come along before they could inspiration to "innovate" a new browser.

    So, I've stuck with Firefox. About 55% visitors to my blog are Firefox users, 33% IE, 8% Safari.

  10. Definitely firefox. Isn't amazing what can be achieved when left to the open source community. I think the links to open source are likely why scientists are attracted to using firefox.

  11. On my XP laptop I use
    -Firefox for general browsing.
    -Opera for its gee whiz integrated mail client and tiled tabs - simply fabulous. and its mail client offers labeling, and threading.
    -IE because I have to use for an online application that will work only with IE
    -I have Safari too, but I am not an Apple fan - horrendous pricing.

    On my Linux desktop, IE and Windoze is a very distant memory all but forgotten - who cares?

    My son uses rebuilt version of Firefox on his handheld - and no it's not a Palm and definitely not that expensive photo album - iPhone.

  12. Firefox. For security reasons I don't use any Microsoft communication products -- email client, ftp client, or browser.

  13. I use SeaMonkey (next gen. of Mozilla) mostly because if I switch to Firefox I'll also have to get a new email app and I dread having to port my email. I use IE only for the few sites that can't handle Mozilla-type browsers.

  14. Firefox for browsing. Started for the tabs, continued for the ad blockers, and is currently hooked because of session recovery. Oh, and I also like the stable and consistent update process.

  15. I use a Mac and am happy to go along with Safari, which only very rarely fails to display correctly.
    I frequently use tabs to open new windows - best invention ever against window clutter, and I have the RSS-feed bookmarks of my favorite blogs and sites in one folder, to which there is a link in my bookmarks bar. The number in brackets behind the folder name tells me how many unread feeds it contains, which makes staying up-to-date an easy task. Several of these are RSS feeds to papers in press of science journals.
    I have Inquisitor as an add-on to my search function, which completes search terms according to most popular searches and gives a preview of the 3 most likely results.

  16. Opera for many years. (I started with Lynx, which essentially displays text but no pictures, back before the Internet turned into the Web.)

    Opera was first with tabs and integrated search next to the address bar, and comes with many of the features that people like in (or like to add to) Firefox, such as ad blocking and mouse gestures. Particularly this last feature is so useful to me that I won't willingly do without it: I can go forward, back, close and open windows, even dump cached pages with a flick of the wrist rather than having to move the cursor to the top of the window and click a button. There are other thoughtful time-saving touches, like "paste and go," which saves an extra move-to-the-top-and-click on any URL or search term you paste into the address or search bars.

    And there's the integrated mail client, news- and feed-reader, chat....

    In other words, I quite like it. ;-)

  17. Here's another Opera user! I've been using Opera since version 5. It's fast, snappy, tweakable, feature rich, and secure. If I were to recreate all the features I use in Opera in FF, I'd have a very bloated browser.

    I'll take a look at FF3 when it comes out. If it's anywhere near as fast and as responsive as Opera (on my old PC and dial-up connection) then I may keep it as my second browser.

  18. Firefox. When it's not available on another computer, I run the program from a PortableApps thumbdrive.

    That's a great suite of tools.

  19. I took the same trip, Mosaic-Netscape-Firefox. I find IE's controls harder to figure out (due to what I think is a condescending format).