“…it’s important to note that the browser is designed to be somewhat behind the state of the art, and [it] makes up for it by its reach.”
– Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist
When you think of the word “Internet,” what immediately comes to mind? Perhaps it’s your favorite website. Maybe you think of a social media tool like Facebook. For others the Internet is synonymous with ideals like freedom of expression and freedom to information. Those in the tech industry may talk about concepts like voice over IP or organizations like the W3C. And on occasion, someone may respond with a rare correlation: the Web browser.
Yes, the humble Web browser — utilized by most every person who has anything to do on the Internet — is regularly overlooked, not because it’s useless, but rather because it’s ubiquitous. For all but those without an Internet connection, one of the most used programs aside from an email client is a browser. As cloud-based applications and the Web-based Gmails of the world continue to see growth, the browser is becoming more integral to online activities than ever.**
Take for example the growing number of online services at your fingertips. You can pay your credit card bill online. You can order flowers, make hotel reservations, buy plane tickets, and manage your bank account from the Internet. Want to create and share spreadsheets or text documents online with cloud-based Google Docs? Most if not all of these activities require an important piece of software: the Internet browser. Choosing which browser you use to do these activities can sometimes be nerve-racking, however.
At their core, most Web browsers are the same. The standard browser allows you to go to your home page, go back a page using the “Back” button, and bookmark a site for future use. This sort of functionality is expected no matter the browser. Of course, this inevitably leads to the question “with so many similar options out there, how does one decide which browser to use?”
For those who are relatively new to Internet technology, the answer is usually this: choose one that’s both well-supported and stable. This typically means using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari browser. These two browsers have long been a part of the industry, and despite any criticism they receive, they are supported and stable browsers that an Internet newbie needs while learning to use the ‘net.
Yet change is always occurring in the browser industry. Take for example the recent news that when combining both mobile and desktop markets, the behemoth that was Internet Explorer has now fallen below 50 percent market share, compared to its former glory of over 95 percent in 2004. What’s taking Internet Explorer’s place? According to the same report Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari browsers are chomping up market share. Mozilla’s Firefox browser has also had an impact. Why? They tout rapid page loads, standards compliancy, and quality Web rendering; Internet users are being won over in the process. These improvements — coupled with greater support — signify more powerful and stable options for not only those new to the ‘net but also to long-time veterans looking for a change.
Safari in particular has garnered many converts, not just in the desktop market but also in the mobile browser market, which brings up another important point about Web browsers as vital Internet tools: mobile devices are changing how we utilize the Internet, and with these mobile devices come new methods of browsing. The mobile market is booming, so much so that now 25 percent of the U.S. population is using a smartphone as their primary device to browse the Internet.
This sort of adoption means greater demand for mobile Web browsers. Enter Safari, Google’s Android browser, and Opera’s Mini/Mobile browsers. Even upstarts like the Dolphin browser — which recently surpassed 10 million users — are seeking to bring new ways to view Internet content to smaller screens.
What does all this mean for you, the reader? The Web browser on your desktop or mobile device may seem as ubiquitous as the bathroom in your dwelling, but your browser shouldn’t be dismissed as a static mean to an end. Rather, the Web browser should be your friend, which grows and changes with a growing and changing Internet. Why not:
* Try a new browser for a few months and see if you like it. Did you know most browsers allow you to install add-ons and extensions to make your online experience more enjoyable? Examples include the popular Adblock Plus for Firefox, Chrome, and other browsers; CleanPage for Internet Explorer; and Shareholic for most major browsers.
* Did you know that the ancient Internet Explorer 6 is still used by 7.5 percent of the world’s Internet users? If your parents are using it, participate in Update Your Parents’ Browser Day on Friday, November 25.
Most of all, remember that the humble Web browser is your travel companion on your journey across the wide expanse of the Internet; treat it well.
* Chrome Extensions
* Firefox Add-ons
* Internet Explorer Add-ons
* Opera Add-ons
* Safari Extensions
** To be fair, despite the strong growth of the likes of Gmail and Hotmail, the folks at CampaignMonitor are reporting that (according to their internal numbers) market share for Web-based email surprisingly lost about four percent of its market share from May ’09 to May ’11, likely due to both the exodus of users from AOL and Yahoo! Mail and the rapid growth of the mobile email client.
Photo via Johan Larsson, Flickr Creative Commons
Firefox, the name reminds one of a slow, roughly worked-out browser that seemed to ‘think’ as my daughter loved to term it- at each and every click. In short it took its own time to open, to browse and the end result wasn’t as impressive as the time it took. The younger generation wants faster browsers, snappier options, clean and clear graphics that wouldn’t crowd the usage space.
Firefox with respect to its usage in India has had mixed reactions. It is evident that Internet Explorer/ Google Chrome do hold sway. But I was suprised to see the patriotic fervour attached to Firefox in this site.
A national browser is what the site termed the Epic browser. The browser has been modified and tweaked by Hidden Reflex an Indian start-up and it looks like the ‘Fox’ has certainly caught the nationalistic ‘fire’ of Indian yuppies.
A majority of Indian viewers still hold the IE as the only saving link to the web world but with the launching of the Epic browser Firefox, has played its crucial point, in trying to wean those that have been initiated into internet only through IE.
Epic, claims Alok Bharadwaj, the CEO of Hidden Reflex, has these revolutionizing features:
- A sidebar that has apps/widgets to provide quick access to various web/native system services
- Built-in word processors that is likely to support many Indian languages keeping in mind the Indian user.
- Firefox is determined to take its users to a complete browser based operating system that is likely to take things to the cloud.
Continuing in the same vein the open source browser has been trying to keep pace with speed and the demands of the new generation. It has been turning the Firefox crank faster with a ‘new version’ every six weeks!
The proverbial Firefox seems to be gearing up to show its speed and its mettle. Users can now expect a lot of improvement in its working! Cnet sources opine that there are plans to include 64-bit support on Windows and Firefox has plans on a war footing to reduce the browser’s memory usage. But the most dynamic of all its changes that Firefox has invented, is a process called ‘Electrolysis’ that splits Firefox into multiple independent processes.
The advantages of having the Electrolysis or multiple independent processes in Firefox is:
- It improves responsiveness- your browser responds faster to your inputs
- Smoother graphics- Better picture and video quality
- Enhanced usage of multicore processors- Quantity of data collected increases manifold
- Increased security- Lesser chances of viral attacks/spams
I am reminded of the passionate debate of my son who rallied that in near future it was Firefox that would bring out the best. And true to his prophecies it seems Firefox too has woken up to the challenge of providing faster, better and secure browsing to its users. This should have been done a long time ago say many of its devout users but Firefox has been in the process of gearing up by adding the Electrolysis element to its 3.6 version. But then it took its time testing out its new processes as a result users felt the changes were late and slow.
Now it has increased its pace and has finally realized that many of its ardent users would love to see its arch rival Internet Explorer turn tail. But with the entry of Google Chrome’s ‘Safari’ promising mobile-browsing charge, Firefox was left with no option but to respond with its rapid release development cycle!
The rapid release development cycle was a crucial process as it would separate the user-interface process from the part that handles its contents in the browser tabs. This would usher in a snappier browser. In other words the mouse click that took ages to recognize and respond would now pour out in a rush. The trick, Firefox officials say lies in its retrieval of data or reusage of data from its ‘garbage pile’. Garbage collection caused a larger application like Facebook or Gmail to pause, but with the reusage of its garbage pile, Firefox seems to have hit upon the idea of reuse and recycle for speedier browsing.
I am sure very soon my son would be proudly displaying a “competitively fast, sporting a sleek minimalist look with excellent features” of the proverbial orange fox with its tail wrapped around the globe on his window! Jai Ho Firefox!
Earlier this week, MySpace gave out pink slips to 500 employees, almost half its staff. While the Facebook universe is rapidly expanding, MySpace, the social networking site that lead the pack just a few years ago, is contracting, maybe fatally. The site has lost millions of followers and millions of dollars. It’s been a huge disappointment for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which bought the site for $580 million in 2005. Rumor has it that the site may be up for sale.
What accounts for the spectacular flame-out of the once high-flying site? Choose your favorite theory: The quest for profits squelched innovation; becoming part of a huge corporation made MySpace less nimble; moving headquarters from a Santa Monica loft to a Beverly Hills high-rise created a culture clash; a fickle public abandoned the site in search of the next new thing; there was “white flight” from the urban chaos of MySpace to the more manicured suburbaness of Facebook.
Regardless of the reasons, MySpace may become another Internet footnote. Of course it will be in good company, as the electronic landscape is littered with the wreckage of companies that soared, then crashed and burned. Remember Netscape, AltaVista, AOL? They all dominated at one point, only to see their fortunes vanish.
Not too long ago, Microsoft was considered by some to be the Evil Empire, only to be eclipsed by Google. Now Facebook is having its day in the sun, surpassing Google as the world’s most visited site. How long it will hold the record is anyone’s guess. But I think it’s a fair bet that it won’t be very long. As technology speeds up modern life, the life cycle of technology companies grows ever shorter.
Maybe a leaner MySpace will manage to soldier on, but it’s doubtful it can recapture its former coolness.