I’ve just been doing some research into the next generation of web browsers, and from reading one report I’ve been very much surprised at how the three leading browsers match up. I remember reading through the technical specifications of Internet Explorer 7 some time ago, and not being particularly impressed by it, and as a result continued to cling to my claim that Firefox was the best you could get. This review suggests otherwise.
There are many different factors that determine what makes a good browser, and those factors vary depending on who is using it and what they use it for. As a web designer, I look for CSS and HTML compliance as being crucial (it’s so frustrating having to change design elements because browsers don’t parse the CSS correctly). IE6 was rather pathetic in this respect, completely ignoring some useful CSS tags, like ‘position: fixed;’, and not being able to handle PNG images with alpha channels (which allows you to use transparencies). Firefox has done this for years, very successfully, and has also been far more secure than the hack-prone IE6. Opera, which is the other contender, has also been very robust in terms of security and CSS compliance, although I still don’t particularly like the interface quite as much.
With IE7 due to be released in the near future (the beta version is already available if you want a sneak preview), and promises a lot of things that were seriously lacking before. Much of this is Microsoft playing catch-up with Firefox and Opera, and from what I can see there is very little that is forward thinking and revolutionary. Firefox too has a new release up its sleeves, but that doesn’t appear to offer very much more than what it already sports, since most of the work has been focussed on the back-end. Opera is currently on version 9, and I’m not aware of any imminent plans for a new release.
In terms of CSS compliance, Opera comes out top by a long way, which surprised me. IE7 is still appalling, but Firefox isn’t too far ahead, which also surprised me. Visually IE7 is much cleaner and sleeker than its predecessor, although that is mainly because it’s copying the default Firefox layout. The advantage Firefox and Opera have over IE7 is that both can be skinned easily, both already have huge plugin resources available (IE7 makes provision for plugins, but they’re fairly limited at the moment, hopefully that will increase once it’s been officially released), and both are incredibly customizable. Another gripe of mine is that Microsoft still doesn’t appear to be making a Mac version of its browser available, which means I’m forced into keeping my PC, even if only for testing purposes.
The upshot of all this is that I’m now considering my current stance on what browser to be recommending to people. I have had a link on various web sites encouraging people to use Firefox, but now I’m wondering if maybe I should be pointing people towards Opera instead?