Monday, May 5, 2014

The Web Browser Wars continue

I remember using Spyglass Mosaic as my first web browser.  It was possibly the worst software product I'd ever seen, and as a software developer, I thought that the developers had no pride in their work.  How else could they have released it?

A while later, there was this Netscape Navigator, which was about 150% of Mosaic, but somewhat based on it.

Up until that time, my telecommunications experience had to do with 300/1200 bps modems and the various Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) that occupied someone's floppy drive, plus being able to communicate over 2400/4800 bps modems with large systems, all using text.

In those days, things were a lot more technical, and I did a lot of human interface work, to let anyone use a computer easily.  I'm not responsible for your being able to use a computer easily, most likely, though.

When Apple made an agreement with the KHTML folks (don't get started on this, please!), a lot of things changed.  After WebKit and Safari, along came Google Chrome, another offshoot.  Various mobile browsers have been switched to use the WebKit bits, and more recently, Opera because of Google's somewhat proprietary work.

Thinking back, I've used:

Netscape Navigator/Communicator
Internet Explorer
Opera/Opera Mini
Apple Safari
Google Chrome
TenFourFox (PowerPC-based adaptation of the latest Firefox versions)

I also used some browser on BeOS and the various crap browsers on feature phones running Brew and whatever browser Android 2.2/2.3 had available.

I'd probably be using Camino now, if it had gone multi-platform.  It didn't, but it inspired Firefox, which did, and I've been using Firefox regularly since version 0.76 or some such.  I remember trying version 0.40 and it wasn't ready, even though Camino 0.5.0 was quite good.

Lately, it seems that the browser wars are back, mostly between Chrome and Firefox.  For all the hoopla about Chrome being so fast, I still find Firefox to be faster and better for me.  Even on Android 4.4.2, I find it better.

It seems odd that it took until version 29 for the desktop version of Firefox to become touch-friendly.  There are many machines which support touch, and there have been hardware add-ons to enable touch on a flat panel iMac for quite a long time.  Visually, Firefox version 29 seems to pick up a lot from Thunderbird, the e-mail application started by Mozilla as an offshoot of Communicator/Sea Monkey.  (My list of e-mail applications is similarly long.)

My real question is: why do people have such strong viewpoints about the way a browser looks?  I find that a browser should display web pages brilliantly, and stay out of the way.  If the browser application displays a lot of information that is irrelevant, I don't need it to do that and there had better be a way to turn that off--a way that is simple.

I really just want to use the browser to view a few pages--I don't keep 20-30 pages open all week long, as I've seen some people do.  If I want news from that many sources, I have Twitter.  Just now, I have the browser window open to this blog editing session and that's it.  I can concentrate on it, and if I need resources, I can open more tabs and then, close them when I'm finished.  I'm obviously doing it incorrectly because Firefox works very well for me, and Chrome doesn't.

Is the flat look taking hold?  When I first installed Mac OS X Public Beta in 2000, the loads of blue overwhelmed me.  The liquid effects, of course, were blue, but the browsers tended to be blue also.  Since iOS 7, everything seems to be flattened, as though a steam roller is smashing everything.  It's not hideous or beautiful--it's just the current state of things.  I liked when things were more colorful, but gray and flat they are now.  Happy browsing!

(I would say something really amazing about Opera, but it's in a huge state of flux, and I'm still tied to version 12.x)

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