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Not All Web Browsers Are Created Equal .

The author

Epiphany Search

As a web developer, I have to be aware of the differences between browsers, so that everyone can view my websites no matter which browser they're using. For most people, connecting to the internet still means clicking on the big blue 'e' on the desktop. Microsoft's Internet Explorer is still the most used web browser in the world. But does this make it the best? In a word, no. Internet Explorer 6, a browser nearing its tenth birthday, is a relic, and IE7, 8 and now 9 are only just plugging a few of the gaping holes left by that browser. Three other browsers are biting at IE's heels: Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari and Google Chrome. All three offer something extra, but just what makes a good browser?

Design Features

Firstly, the fun stuff. Designers are really happy with the advanced features of browsers. The latest stylesheet specification allows you to do loads of great design features in the browser. That means no more slow-to-load images, fixed-size content or developer hacks. In this category are things like rounded corners, background colour gradients and drop shadows, which can now be done super quick in Firefox, Safari and Chrome. IE 9 has even got to this stage! Transparency is another great feature that, if used properly, can have a great effect on the design of a site. Look at http://24ways.org/ in Firefox, Chrome, Safari or IE9, and then look at it in IE7. The overlaid transparency brings a real sense of depth to the site. The choice of fonts is integral to website design. Until recently designers were limited to using a few 'web safe' fonts that all users would have on their computer, using a hack like Cufon (http://cufon.shoqolate.com/generate/), or Sifr(http://www.mikeindustries.com/blog/sifr). Newer browsers can now use the 'font-face' property to load a custom font into the site. The problem this brings up is font licensing, but that's a whole new blog post... Blurring the line between design features and behaviour are animations and transitions. New browsers allow you to have subtle transitions in your site, for instance changing the colour of a menu item when you hover over it. Traditionally this would have been done in Javascript, but again, doing these things in the browser mean quicker loading times for your pages. It's also extremely scalable, so the bigger your site gets the more download time you save.

Important Stuff

A good-looking site is important, but the real reasons the newer browsers outshine IE are more important. They load up quicker and run pages quicker, which improves the user experience. They are also more secure, meaning that all your online purchases and transactions are less vulnerable to security flaws. Lastly, they are more customisable. Firefox and Chrome, in particular, have a range of plug-ins available to make your life easier. There's plugins to keep you up-to-date with your eBay auctions, to control your music, to keep up to date with Facebook and lots more. So... Internet Explorer 9 is certainly a step in the right direction. It is a much more capable browser than any we've seen from Microsoft before. However, the browsers that are really pushing the boundaries and exploring new technology are Chrome, Safari and Firefox. I've only scratched the surface of what these broswers can do: there are some great new technologies, including drag and drop, HTML5 video and audio, and new form features to make browsing the web easier, faster and safer. Upgrade your browser today!