What’s a Browser? An Overview of the 4 Major Players
(A Beginner’s Guide)
The internet browser is one of the most important bits of software on your computer – you probably use it every day for browsing, email, social networking and shopping. But how much do you know about it?
As web designers we’re often met with a confused silence when we ask – “What internet browser are you using?” (Lots of people respond, hesitantly, with “Windows Vista?”)
If you don’t know anything about your browser – what it does, how it works, and what alternatives are out there – then you might find this article useful.
First off – a few facts:
- A browser is a program that you use to view the internet. Put simply, the browser interprets the code that websites are written in and then displays it.
- There are many different browsers with the most popular being: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.
- The people in charge of creating the code that the web is written in are the World Wide Web Consortium – the ‘W3C’ – http://www.w3.org/.
- The W3C set a gold standard for website code. All the browsers interpret code with varying degrees of success – this means that each browser interprets website code differently – something that makes life extremely difficult for web designers!
What are you using?
If you’re not sure what internet browser you’re using, click here to find out: http://www.whatbrowseramiusing.co/. It’s very likely that it’s one of the browsers listed below:
1. Internet Explorer (IE)
IE is the most commonly used browser. This is because Microsoft Windows PCs used to come with this browser pre-installed. Recently Microsoft has been forced to offer a choice of browsers instead, leading to greater variety.
Note: IE9 is only available for users of Windows Vista and Windows 7. If you are using an older system (2000, XP), we recommend moving to an alternative browser
Internet Explorer accounts for 40% of all web traffic. However – this is split between different versions released over the last ten years – 6, 7, 8 and 9.
IE6 came out in 2001 and is still used by about 3.5% of people on the web. Given that the internet has changed a huge amount in that last ten years IE6 is now seriously dated. If you’re using an old version it’s possible that some sites you visit won’t work properly, will look broken or just plain odd.
Many major players on the web, including Google, Facebook and YouTube have dropped support for IE6. Recently we have done the same – showing an error message at the top of the screen that prompts you to upgrade. Even Microsoft themselves agree that it’s time to move on – http://ie6countdown.com – so if you’re running IE6 we strongly recommend an upgrade!
- Current web users: 40%
- Latest version: 9
- Trend: Losing popularity
- Overview: IE9 performs reasonably well in tests but does lack support for some upcoming technologies
Download IE9 – http://ie.microsoft.com
2. Mozilla Firefox
Firefox is the browser of choice for many web developers as it is the most customisable. Firefox allows you to install add-ons which can perform all sorts of tasks – tailoring your browser to your needs.
Firefox is frequently updated so you can be sure you’re running a recent version. It also has good support for the newest features of the web.
- Current web users: 30%
- Latest version: 4
- Trend: Remaining steady
- Overview: The most versatile browser, Firefox also has good support for the latest standards and performs reliably and quickly in tests
Download Firefox – http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/products/download.html
3. Google Chrome
Chrome is the new kid on the block. Developed using Google’s significant resources, Chrome is a cutting-edge browser with a focus on security, speed and adopting the very latest technology.
Chrome has a neat feature that will keep everything running even if one of the websites you’re looking at crashes.
- Current web users: 15%
- Latest version: 10
- Trend: Quickly gaining users
- Overview: Light, quick and passes most tests with flying colours
Download Chrome – http://google.com/Chrome
4. Apple Safari
Safari is the most popular browser among Mac users as it comes with copies of the Apple operating system Mac OS. Given that this browser was originally designed for Macs it does perform better on Mac than PC.
Safari uses the same underlying technology as Chrome so it performs just as well in most tests.
- Current web users: 6%
- Latest version: 5
- Trend: Slowly gaining users
- Overview: Very quick, particularly when used on a Mac, and great adoption of new technology
Download Safari – http://apple.com/safari/download
Given that most people browse the internet for hours each week it’s well worth making sure that you’ve got the best software for the job. You have a choice in what browser you use and it’s never too late to switch – installing a new browser has never been easier.
The best advice we can give you whatever your choice is to make sure you’re running the very latest version. This will ensure that you’re safe and protected and can enjoy the best experience with the latest features of the websites you visit.
A few sources/resources:
(Phosys is not responsible for any external links)