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In search of a better browser

by Ray Valdes  |  February 24, 2009  |  Comments Off on In search of a better browser

There are some of us who treat browsers like restaurants or movies — enjoying the latest launch or checking out the newest sequel. The new Apple Safari 4 browser, released in beta form today, is such a treat. Although not without flaws and quirks, it satisfies the need for novelty and whets the appetite in the never-ending search for a better browser.

Looking back, I think it was around 2001 that I stopped using Internet Explorer as my primary browser and switched to Opera. I stayed with Opera for several years until Firefox came along. Then a couple of years ago, I started using Macintosh more intensively and switched to Safari as my primary browser, for both Macintosh and Windows. However, recent versions of Safari have not been stable on my Vista machine (could be that particular machine’s hardware configuration, not necessarily the software), so I have lately been non-denominational in my browser usage, especially as Firefox has continued to evolve, IE8 appeared, and Google Chrome stepped into the fray.

These days I usually have four browsers running at the same time on a given machine:

  • Google Chrome for accessing Gmail and Google Apps (wicked fast)
  • Firefox for its plug-ins (iMacros, Facebook extension, and Firebug debugger)
  • Internet Explorer for accessing corporate applications
  • Opera for quickly traversing through a crop of new Web sites

On my Windows boxes, this has left Safari in the dust, along with also-rans such as Flock. On my Macintosh machines, I use Firefox for 80% of my browsing, then Safari, and Camino once in a while for the odd task.

The new version of Safari will force me to reevaluate my style of working. I will continue to use Chrome, Firefox and IE, but will have to think about how to fit Safari into the mix. It is snappy like Chrome, yet feels familiar (I like the drop-down menus that appear when key accelerators are used). One incompatibility that I encountered still remains: I occasionally access the National Institutes of Health biomedical database called CRISP. Safari on the Mac cannot access this (although Firefox on Mac and Safari on Windows can). The new version of Safari exhibits the same problem as the previous version.

Safari continues the browser race that Chrome recently ratcheted upwards: faster Javascript engine, HTML 5 support, offline persistence, “speculative loading” (pre-fetch for faster response), etc. There is some sizzle that I don’t care about but others might: the iTunes-like “cover flow” view of bookmarks, CSS effects, and a stripped-down Chrome-like appearance. There are some niceties that I do appreciate: debugging and profiling tools (see screenshot of load times), and the “Top Sites” thumbnail view for quick access to frequently visited sites.

Bottom line: it is a multi-browser world, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Users win, always a good outcome.

Browser wars heat up (an in-your-face ad for Google Chrome in a news article about Safari).

Browser wars heat up (an in-your-face ad for Google Chrome in a news article about Safari).

Useful developer tool for optimizing page elements (similar to YSlow).

Useful developer tool for optimizing page elements (similar to YSlow).

A rendering glitch on the third page I viewed with the new browser.

A rendering glitch on the third page I viewed with the new browser.

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Ray Valdes
Research VP
9 years at Gartner
30 years IT industry

Ray Valdes is research director in Gartner Research, where he is part of the Internet Platforms and Web Services team. Read Full Bio

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