Browsers – one ring to rule them all

27 11 2009

There are plenty of web browsers for us to choose from. The fact that are plenty is a web site designers nightmare because mostly none of them truly follow the defined standards properly, they all add things, they all do it slightly different. Viewing a web site in a browser that doesn’t render the web site correctly can be annoying or downright painful, it may mean the site is unusable.

Web site designers employee as many tricks as they do good design practices to deal with this and still they can be beaten, how many people are still using Internet Explorer 6 and for how much longer?

In my work I spend quite a lot of time using different browsers, so I have Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.5, Google Chrome and Opera all installed on my Windows desktop.

However, I don’t just use Windows, I also use linux. My Ubuntu 9.10 desktop comes with Firefox as the  default. I also have a netbook, which now runs Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10, thats Firefox too. Then there’s my PDA/Cell phone, a Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, this has Windows Mobile 6.1 and comes with both Internet Explorer and Opera Mobile. Then there is my other cell phone, a little Nokia 6210 Navigator, that runs S60.

What I need is some continuity, a browser that, broadly speaking, is the same on all platforms. One that can be my browser of choice, the default, no matter which device I’m using and will, more or less, work the same, render the same (within the confines of the device, of course) and not be an annoyance to use.

You would think that my requirement shouldn’t be that big a deal, right? Well it is.

What if we dropped the pda/cell phones off the requirement? Well it doesn’t really help that much, our choice is pretty much Firefox. Google Chrome could be used but its not officially available on linux yet and besides I don’t want to drop my pda/cell phones from the requirement. I do accept that my requirement may be a minority request though.

So here is the requirement

  • Must be able to download and install easily, no messing about with source, compiling, etc.
  • Must support Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • Must support Ubuntu 9.10 and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10
  • Must support Windows Mobile 6.1 on Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
  • Must support S60 on Nokia 6210 Navigator
  • Must render the sites I use in a usable manner
  • Ideally share a common ‘cloud’ of bookmarks
  • Nice if it handled email
  • It MUST work, browsing should be an easy experience, not a chore.

Who are the candidates? I checked on wikipedia and this list seems to be

  • Internet Explorer
  • Safari
  • Opera
  • Chrome
  • SeaMonkey
  • Camino

Now this is just part of the whole list, trust me (or don’t and go look for yourself) there are a lot of browsers out there.

It doesn’t take long to whittle that lot down to one, in fact the only one that can support my requirement (and more besides). Opera seems to support almost everything out there in one of its forms, everything except the iPhone.

Welcome to Opera.

Opera has been around for quite a while, from their web site

“Opera started in 1994 as a research project inside Norway’s largest telecom company, Telenor. Within a year, it branched out into an independent development company named Opera Software ASA.

Today, Opera Software develops the Opera Web browser, a high-quality, multi-platform product for a wide range of platforms, operating systems and embedded Internet products – including Mac, PC and Linux computers, mobile phones and PDAs, game consoles, and other devices like the Nintendo Wii, DS, Sony Mylo, and more.

Opera’s vision is to deliver the best Internet experience on any device. Opera’s key business objective is to earn global leadership in the market for PC/desktops and embedded products. Opera’s main business strategy is to provide a browser that operates across devices, platforms and operating systems, and can deliver a faster, more stable and flexible Internet experience than its competitors.” – http://www.opera.com/company/

I’ve been using it now for the last 12 months or so and I am impressed, hell its even the browser on the Kid’s Nintendo Wii. In every day use I’ve had no real problems but I do come across the odd site that doesn’t want to render quite right, this is more to do with the site than the browser, however that means a switch to one of the others. Typically this is so rare that its not an issue, in fact its just as likely to occur with any of the browsers. Sometimes its more an issue of linux not supporting all of the rich web media as well as it could in most cases.

Opera also has Opera Link, this is a portal system that allows you to, among many other things, synchronize your bookmarks to a single account and share that account on each device. This means if I update a bookmark or a start page on my linux desktop when I come to log in on my Windows desktop the same change is there. This feature alone makes life so much easier, if it ever extends to the mobile version as well it will be fantastic.

Update : Opera Mobile 10 Beta 2 adds Opera link to the mobile version, providing synchronized bookmarks and more between Windows, Linux and Mobile (S60 and Windows Mobile)

Would I stop and use something else? Of course, if something else comes along and is better I will use it. This is about getting what I need from the browser, my requirement is what is important, not the tool used to deliver it.

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