Aug 23, 2007

The Perfect Browser. Can You Find One ?

Dear Friends,

I have been on waiting for a long time for a perfect browser. I have come across three operating systems, spent time with over a dozen different browsers and tried to make them all my home.

Sadly, none have been a perfect fit.

So, in an attempt to speed up this quest, by speeding up the production of said browser, I’ve decided to make a list of five things that every browser gets right (and others should copy) and five things they get wrong, (and should fix).

Without taking any further time, here is my look at what is right and wrong with the five biggest browsers I know and love.

So here it starts:

Internet Explorer

The granddaddy of all browsers out today. This baby has been around the block a few times and remains the number one browser in the world by far. But is that first place trophy justified, well, see for yourself below:

What it Does Right:

OS Integration: Sure, it might mean a few security risks, but the integration with the OS is pretty nice. It helps it load/run faster, gives it a consistent look with the rest of the OS and lets it work with other applications well.
Usability: There is little doubt that IE is easy to use. People are familiar with it and even my grandmother can figure out how to use it. Outside of some advanced features, anyone can jump in and surf right away.
Speed: There’s no denying that IE is fast for most purposes, especially on boot up and shut down. General Web browsing moves very well and the entire browser, most of the time, seems light on its toes.
Works Everywhere: Since IE is number one, Web developers write specifically for it. You’ll find countless sites that work on IE but no other browser. If you start with IE, you don’t have to switch between browsers to visit your bank.
Tab Browsing: IE definitely does a decent job with tabbed browsing offering tab groups and other features. Though it was late to the game in this area, it wasn’t completely left behind either.

Where it Goes Wrong:

Security: The word “klusterfuck” leaps to mind. The OS integration combined with the number one status and a lackluster approach to security has resulted in IE being attacked more than Alberto Gonzales on the stand. Not pretty.
Stability: Could you have the browser crash just a little bit more please? I actually go to surf on the Web for a full five minutes. Stability is terrible and it often takes the whole system down with it. Yet another price for OS integration.
Standards: In the beginning, Microsoft could almost make up the Internet standards. Now we have open ones that most other browsers follow. Too bad IE doesn’t. Transparent PNGs, CSS3 and even some XHTML break in IE. All in all, IE is a Web developer's nightmare.
Extendability: You can install extensions and add ons to IE but it comes at a greater risk and with a lot more complexity than a traditional extension system. Would do well to eye Firefox in this category.
Windows Only: If you like IE, you have to get Windows. There has never been a verion for Linux and they’ve long since abandoned the Mac. Is it really worth putting up with Windows to use IE? That’s a dumb question.


IE is not the laughing stock it once was but it is still a barely passable browser. I don’t use Windows much so I rarely see IE. However, even when I am on Windows use I use something, anything else. The security risks and stability issues make IE something to only use when your being shot at, no other browsers are available and Ebay has a great deal on a bulletproof vest.

Yet, it sits at number one proving that laziness and ignorance still make the world go around.


The favorite son of geeks and technophiles everywhere, Firefox is the browser of choice for almost anyone with two brain cells to rub together. But, as true as that may be, it isn’t perfect by any stretch.

What it Does Right:

Extensions/Themes: Would Firefox even be at the table without extensions? I doubt it. Extensions are what makes this browser so great. I haven’t seen a single Firefox install without at least one extension. They are safe, powerful, easy to install and lots of fun. The same goes for themes.
Security: Finally, a reasonably safe browser. It took a lot of work, but they made it. Firefox isn’t perfect in this area, but they patch flaws quickly and don’t integrate with the OS, limiting the exposure in most cases. I sleep better at night knowing my parents use Firefox.
Spell Checking: Sweet mother of mercy I love this feature. I don’t know how I survived without it. The integrated spell checking in Firefoxis not only a great feature, but a well-done one too.
Multiple OSes: This is how OS independence should be done. Not only does Firefox work reasonably well with all OSes, so does most of its extensions and themes. You can get the exact same experience on several different OSes.
Rendering Engine: The Gecko rendering engine is probably the best all-around backend available. It is fast, standards compliant and fault tolerant. Though it doesn’t come out in first in any one category, it has the best average by far.

Where it Goes Wrong:

Bloat: FIrefox was supposed to be a lean, mean browsing machine and it definitely started out htat way. However, now it feels like its put on a few pounds. It moves more sluggish than it once did and, judging from previews of Firefox 3, the problem is due to get worse.
Memory Usage: Seemingly unrelated to the bloat issue is the simple fact that Firefox is a memory hog. Though the reason for its insane usage is hotly debated, it is clear that, on most computers, FF will choke out your memory faster than a steroid-crazed UFC fighter.
Tabbed Browsing: Firefox gets a cookie for bringing tabs into the mainstream but it gets a slap on the wrist for screwing it up. Its latest iteration of the tab bar, which extends the bar wider than browser window, makes tabs almost useless when working with more than ten tabs. Thanks for screwing up my podcast.
Restarts: Install an extension, restart the browser, add a theme, restart the browser, switch themes, restart the browser, disable an extension, restart the browser. For such an anti-Microsoft organization, you sure have one very Windows-like feature there.
Crashes and Hangups: Though not as big of a problem with Firefox as IE, I have had cases where Firefox has crashed and refused to restart because, for some reason, firefox.exe was still running. This seems to be improving but is still very annoying.


Firefox is a solid browser. It does what a browser should do, can be easily extended and remains fast enough and stable enough for most users. For most, FF is the best deal in town, especially if they are making the jump from IE and just need a replacement.


The IE of the Mac world. Safari is the default browser with the Mac but is nowhere near as hated as its counterpart. For most, it is a bit like vanilla ice cream, hard to hate but hard to love. It’s just there. Still, I am going to try to do both.

What it Does Right:

Speed: Safari is one fast browser. No doubts there. Running on the native Mac interface, Cocoa, it is slick and smooth. It loads pages fast and, though its claims of being the fastest are suspect, it definitely ranks pretty high.
OS Integration: Better integration than IE, none of the security holes. It makes sweet love to your iCal, Mail and other iLife applications without putting your system in grave risk. IE could learn a lot from Safari here.
Simplicity: Safari is minimalism taken to an extreme. You can’t get much easier to use. Unless you find the concept of “forward” and “back” difficult, nothing should trip you up here.
Private Browsing: Safari’s famous “porn mode” is a great touch. It lets you surf the Web without leaving any tracks at all. Why this feature hasn’t been put into other browsers is beyond me.
Finishing Touches: Safari looks and feels “put together”. From the more advanced “advanced find” feature to the address bar doubling as a loading bar, someone spent some serious time thinking about how to bring the little things together for a great browser. Other browsers have some serious catching up to do.

Where it Goes Wrong:

One Size Fits All: I hope you like how your Safari looks and feels, because that’s how it’s going to be. Extending Safari is like pulling teeth. Sure, there are some ways to add new features, but why bother when Firefox’s system is so much better?
Issues with Tabs: Nearly every other browser has a “one window” mode where all new windows will open in tabs. Why not Safari? I’m constantly battling popups that should be opening in new tabs. Yes, there’s a good popup blocker, but I actually wanted these pop ups, just not in a new window. Also, why can’t I open a tab in the background with Safari without resorting to mouse trickery? It’s annoying leaping to a new tab the second it opens. All in all, the tab interface is a kludge.
Compatibility: Safari is a harsh mistress. It doesn’t work well on many sites and some advanced features, such as WYSIWYG editing of Web forms, it doesn’t work at all (without the beta).
Crashes: Though not nearly as flaky as IE, it’s been known to take a few nose dives. That wouldn’t be such a horrible thing save for the next problem.
Session Restorer: Ok, I give up, where did you hide the “restore session” feature? If I crash or close down the browser with three tabs open, I want those same three tabs open when I pull it back up. So where is it? I’m waiting.


For the Mac, Safari is a solid browser. If you can do without a few features and enjoy the look/feel of the browser, it is very respectable. Safari on Windows is a joke, but Apple gets credit for trying. All in all, Apple’s default browser is far beyond Microsoft’s even though it doesn’t quite live up to the legacy of and iTunes.


Its sissy-sounding name belies the fact that Opera is probably the most poweful mainstream browser out-of-the-box. This browser can kick your ass, take your lunch money and do it fast. Not bad for such a puny little browser, but its domineering ways make it a browser you either love or one you love to hate.

What it Does Right:

Speed: If you like speed, this is your browser. In my experience it was the fastest browser out of the bunch. Fastest loading, fastest rendering, fastest responding, fastest everything. This browser was surfing while some of its competitors were still loading up.
Mail Client: If you use a mail client separate from your browser, you are wasting resources since you have to run two instances of the rendering engine, one for each app. Though Opera’s M2 mail client isn’t great, it is passable, runs neatly in the sidebar and doesn’t hog memory. It is much more efficient than running Firefox and Thunderbird at the same time. Seamonkey could learn a great deal from this.
Themes: Not only does Opera have a lot of great themes, but it handles them beautifully, letting you install and switch themes without restarting the browser, Instant gratification at its finest. Hint to FIrefox here.
Features Galore: Opera manages to pack a lot of powerful features without feeling bloated. Notes, Speed Dial, Bittorrent downloads and more all come with opera out of the box. Firefox users have to play catchup using extensions.
Use it Anywhere: Not only does Opera run on Windows, Mac and Linux, but also on your phone and your Nintendo Wii. This takes platform independence to a whole new level.

Where it Goes Wrong:

Spell Checking: Fifty years from now my grandkids are going to ask me what spell check dialog looks like and I’ll have to open up Opera to show them. We are in the year 2007, misspelled words get underlined in red and I don’t have to remember to spell check everything I type by hand. Even M2 doesn’t have this feature.
Breaks Sites: Though Opera’s dedication to standards compliance is noble, they were the first major browser to pass the Acid 2 Test, they take it to an extreme. Many sites do not work at all in Opera that work fine in every other browser. Also, the rendering engine seems to have some bugs that prevent lists with links from displaying correctly in some cases.
Extensions: Though Opera is the most powerful browser out of the box, there are still some features I’d like to see added and can get easily with Firefox extensions. No dice with Opera. Worst of all, we ask for extensions, Opera gives us widgets. Thanks for nothing.
Complications: Of all the browsers, Opera has the highest learning curve. Some of it has to do with all of the features, some of it is that Opera doesn’t always follow standard shortcuts. For example, press period to start type ahead finding. That makes no sense at all.
Updating: Browser updates are a fact of life these days. You can not get around it. However, Opera is the only major browser without an internal update manager. It can check for updates, but you have to go to the Web site, download it and install it yourself. Thus, one major reason I do not put Opera on my grandmother’s computer.


Opera is like the nerdy kid you knew in school. He mastered quantum physics while most kids were learning to read, but couldn’t tie his own shoes until he was almost twenty. Opera has a lot of the hard stuff down but is lacking some serious fundamentals. M2 is the only compelling feature in Opera that is truly unique and even that is looking dated and pointless. Opera has the potential to really shine and makes a pretty compelling browser now, but it has to stop tripping over itself.


Picking a fifth browser turned out to be pretty difficult. After the first four, every other browser is, pretty much, just a variation of one of those browsers. But Camino is different, though based upon Firefox’s Gecko engine, it uses OSX’s native Cocoa display. It is an attempt to bring the best of Safari and the best of Firefox to the Mac.

But the question is, does it work? (and will it blend?)

What it Does Right:

General Stability: Slower than Safari but faster than Firefox, Camino doesn’t blow off any doors with its speed, but its rock-solid stability definitely will win some fans. It works and it works well.
Usability: Cartoonish, perhaps, but there is no doubting that Camino is a breeze to use. Even the preferences menu, modeled after regular Mac menus, is much easier to use.
Rendering Engine: As I’ve said before of Gecko, it is the best rendering engine on the market. It travels well, is very stable, reasonably fast and very standards compliant overall. The developers of Camino made a great choice.
Bookmark Management: Though I didn’t mention it with Safari, Camino takes its cues from its relative and manages bookmarks in a much more complete way. I especially like the top ten bookmarks feature in both as it mirrors Speed Dial on Opera.
Memory Usage: Camino, compared to other browsers, leaves a very small footprint on the system. This is easily the most efficent way to use Gecko on your Mac.

Where it Goes Wrong:

Tabbed Browsing: Tabbed browsing in Camino, even after the update, is about three years out of date. There’s no drag and drop tab reordering, no closed tab recovery and only limited other tab management options. Probably the weakest tab implementation of all.
Extensions/Themes: Though I’m really happy to have a Gecko running natively on OSX, there doesn’t seem to be any way to get my old Firefox extensions to work in Camino and the selection of working add ons is flimsy at best. You can kiss goodbye to a lot of great features.
Short Cut Dyslexia: Some shortcuts mirror Safari, others mirror Firefox, others seem made up and some follow convention. Usability is great for a novice but power users that use shortcuts might have to relearn.
Limited Integration: Though the whole idea of Camino was to integrate Gecko with the Mac, there is sadly little talking between the two. Camino makes no use, that I can see, of any of the iLife applications. A terrible pity.
The Bookmark Manager Button: Though I love the bookmark manager and I think the usability of Camino is, overall, solid, why the heck is the manager button all the way in the upper right hand corner? Why is it a manager button and not an “add bookmark” button like Safari? I used Camino for weeks before I noticed that button out there.


Camino is a match made in heaven but a very bare-bones marriage. You get what you’d expect out of a pairing between Cocoa and Gecko, but not much else. This isn’t Firefox and it shows when you try to move tabs around. Camino is limited, but very effective.

If you love stability and speed, this browser is hard to beat, if you love power, customization and features, you might want to look elsewhere.

Bottom Line

So which browser do I use? Firefox, mainly because I am quite used to it now. But I have used all of the browsers in this list at varying times.

If one of these browsers can fix their bugs and give me a reason not to stray, I probably will, but in the meantime, Firefox will do the work for me. :)

However, I’m still hoping that one of you guys can give me a more permanent and stable browser. I’m in the mood to find a better one.

And also don't forget to give reasons.

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