Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Browse

If you were viewing this blog in the mid 1990's you would most likely be trying to escape from your roommate shouting along with his 2-Pac cd, while he glares intensely at your Alicia Silverstone poster. All you wanna do is read about Law & Order on this futuristic "blog" thing. You can read about one line at a time as your Netscape Navigator browser and 14.4 baud modem slowly render the page.

If you were viewing this blog in the late 1990's you would most likely be trying to escape from your roommate who, every time you looked at him would yell "Waaaaazzzzzzzuuuuuuppp!!!" at you while he pumped "Who Let The Dogs Out!?!" on repeat. Unfortunately, your 56 K modem was still pretty slow, and Internet Explorer 4 crashed pretty frequently. And who were these crackpots talking about a black president, anyway?

Fortunately, the days of a single dominant browser are over. There is competition aplenty, and you can choose from several different applications to get your internet on.

Let's start with what is still the king. Internet Explorer comes pre-installed on Windows Operating Systems, and because a lot of users don't know that there are other options, it is still the most commonly used browser. In it's glory days, IE 6 was used in over 90% of all browser traffic, and did more than its part to spread viruses and trojans around the world. I'm sure IE 6 was a hacker's favorite browser.

IE 7 was introduced in the last 2 years, its selling point that it was more secure than v6 and offered multiple tabs per browser window, an obvious response to the popularity of that feature that Firefox had been providing for a while. IE 8 is still in beta testing, but boasts even better security than v7 and performance that is at least in the same conversation as high performing browsers.

The next most popular browser, and my favorite, is Mozilla Firefox. Firefox is fast, has a number of shortcuts, and best of all it's extendable. Firefox allows for a number of custom build add-ons to its browser, providing even greater functionality. My favorites:
  • Ad Block Plus: Too many ads on the page you're trying to read? Are the slowing down the rendering of the page? Ad Block Plus will detect ads and stop them from rendering.
  • Cooliris: This is an incredible cool way to search for images. I can't really describe it; you'll just have to check it out for yourself. But take the tour - it's great (especially with two-finger-scroll).
  • Foxmarks: Do you have more than one computer? Doesn't it get annoying managing different sets of bookmarks on each one? Foxmarks takes care of that for you by synching all your bookmarks. Just install Foxmarks on each computer you use, and it does the rest. Very useful.
  • Fire.fm: Puts a small bar at the top of the browser that lets you listen to your last.fm stations while you surf.
These are just a few; there are countless to choose from. I do want to note that these are applications that are written by Joe Developer. So there are security risks. I generally stick to the add-ons that are very highly rated and used by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people.

If you own a Mac, you have Safari installed on your machine. Safari is a good browser. Secure, fast, and along with the Mac itself, it's slowly penetrating the market.

Opera is an interesting story. Strait out of Norway, the Opera browser has been around for over a decade. It is another good, fast browser. It has a small number of die-hard users, but has never gained traction in the mass market.

Lastly, there is Google Chrome. Only recently released, it boasts that it is the fastest browser yet. Speed, in all of these cases, is not determined by your connection speed (which for the most part is out of the browser's control), but the speed by which the content returned is rendered. As sites get more and more complex/fancy, the speed of a browser is actually pretty noticeable. If you want to test this, use different browsers to load a site like ESPN, which is a pretty busy site. A drawback to chrome (for the time being) is that it only runs on Windows. No Mac or Linux version yet, but they are in the works. Sign up here, if you want to be notified when it's available.

There are new beta versions of the browsers all the time, and with each new release comes the claim that "this browser is now the fastest." It's hard to keep up with all of it. From the news that I browse, I would venture that IE is the slowest and Chrome is the fastest. In fact, I saw an article today about a new beta version of Chrome that is 25% faster than the current release. That's fast.

While I use Firefox as my primary browser, I do use Opera and Safari for certain circumstances, such as maintaining multiple logins (if I want to log into a different Google id, for example, I do it in a different browser so I don't have to log out of my normal id in Firefox). Browsing privately is another reason to use multiple browsers. You can configure most browsers to disable cookies, javascript, plug-ins, etc. if you want to browse somewhere but want to make sure your identity is protected. Having a separate browser that is always configured like this is handy so you don't have to modify the settings of your normal browser.

I just learned that Chrome is supporting add-ons. Once they get a Mac version, it will be hard not to switch if the performance is still there...

Anyway, I hope you guys find this to be as exciting as Carlos Zambrano did when I sent him a rough draft for review. I'd be interested to know what browsers you use, what your experiences have been, and if you find info like this helpful.

And faithful reader Marty only uses browsers while in their Beta version, so he should be able to field any questions anyone has about those.

Oh yeah, and Happy St. Pat's to all my Irish friends!


Marty said...

This is true...I only use browsers when they are being tested at the Beta House. I find the best browser in these beta tests is usually the naked beer slide, or perhaps occasionally, pooh dollar...what...oh, different Beta, right....I like firefox better than IE, Safari's ok, and I've never heard of the rest...but I've never really been a big fan of Opera...or Oprah...either one really...

kevin said...

i've been using chrome exclusively for about a month now. i love firefox, and used that for a year (two years?) before that. but my pc is getting a bit slow, and i've noticed that the actual program of chrome starts in about 5 seconds while FF starts in about 20.

After that, i think they are both fast, and i'd give the edge to google.

i definitely like the layout of chrome better. the tabs are on top which is the most intuitive. also a 'plus' button for a one click "add tab".

here are two other great features of chrome

1) when you have 17 tabs open and want to shut down 15 of them, just put your mouse over the far left tab's 'x', and start clicking. as the tabs decrease, other browsers have them increase in size to fill the upper bar thingy. this means that you have to reposition the mouse to close more tabs. chrome doesn't make the tabs bigger until you move the mouse away. sounds small and nerdy, but i love it.

you also can drag and drop a tab into the main viewing window. this not only opens it up in a new window, but it removes it from the old tab bar.

it's the small things.

can't watch a netflix movie unless you're on IE. that's so dumb i think.

i also can't right click a download so that it opens up my download manager unless i'm in FF. can't figure out how to make chrome the preferred browser on that, but that's very minor.

kevin said...

oh, and i do love FF's keyboard shortcut of '/' to search. that said, i haven't looked through chrome's shortcuts yet. plus, i do like chrome's search function better. it's easier to go to the next found result i think.

Ryan said...

I liked Safari for awhile but it started getting left behind by a lot of the newer multimedia.

IE is the absolute worst.

Firefox is fine. Haven't tried chrome yet. I think it's funny how we now gauge time as performance. It's in terms of savings seconds.

Reminds me of the time I was getting impatient with the microwave, thinking I couldn't stand waiting two minutes to boil water or something.

Roller said...

Marty, I'm really afraid to ask what pooh dollar is.

Kevin, awesome feedback! A few things:

1) I've heard that Firefox can be a pretty big hog when you add a lot of extensions. This is probably one of the reasons it takes more time to start than Chrome. And when Chrome starts allowing extensions, we may see the same thing there. Or not... Google is pretty darn creative...

2) I've heard that the new Safari (v4 I think) provides the same layout as Chrome (i.e. copied off Chrome). There is also a Firefox extension to do the same thing, and it may be a built-in option in the next rev of FF.

3) Related to the tab closing. That is a total nerdy thing, but something that has always bugged me in FF. In fact, sometimes FF doesn't even present the 'x' on your non-focused tabs, so you can't close them unless you bring them into focus. I have no idea what the rule is behind this but that along with the scenario you described drive me nuts.

Looking forward to giving chrome some real usage once they have a Mac version...

Rye, funny comment regarding our changing perception of "fast". Somewhat related to that is the ubiquity of news/content for consumption. I pretty much always have my phone, laptop or iPod with me, because I dislike being in situations where I can't consume some kind of content if I have the mental bandwidth. The flip side of this is that I sometimes wonder if I've given myself ADD...

kevin said...

btw - i forgot the best feature, your URL bar is also your search bar.


kevin said...

this is a brand new comparison. IE surprised me as i feel people are more positive on it than before (maybe a general overall perception of MS though with the new OS coming out and maybe bing to a lesser extent).

i still use chrome at home and love it. i use FF at work as it's the recommended browser for our CRM program. however, i use 'chromifox' extension cuz i just love the tabs on top.

Roller said...

Kev, thanks for the link. I agree, people have been much kinder to IE 8 than you'd expect based on those comparisons.

Perhaps it's the new O/S, perhaps it's because it's a huge improvement from IE 6, which is still an eye-sore for MSFT.

Still looks like IE is way behind everyone else, though. Why is that? MSFT has a ton of money and smart people. How can they be so far behind? Maybe because they have so much legacy code/apps with which they have to remain compatible?