The Varieties of Web Browsers
A web browser is a program on your computer which allows you to view web pages. You’re using one right now!
Most people probably experience the web through the browser which came installed on their particular device: Edge or Internet Explorer on Windows computers, Safari on Macs and iPhones, or Chrome on Android phones. There are in fact many other browsers, many of which are safer, faster or more reliable than their default browser.
All web browsers are free of charge, and your computer or mobile phone is not limited to having just the one browser.
Why Bother Changing?
Most users of web browsers are probably happy with what they have. So why should you go to the trouble of trying out a different browser? There are two reasons why using a different web browser might improve your experience of the web:
- People have a variety of needs and preferences, and each web browser contains a different variety of features.
- Some web browsers interpret web layouts more accurately than others.
Try Something Different
Each web browser has its own set of features:
- Some browsers are lighter than others and are especially suitable for low–powered or elderly computers.
- Some browsers contain built–in adblockers, for those who dislike wasting bandwidth on annoying advertisements.
- Some browsers can easily be configured to your particular requirements.
- Some browsers contain effective privacy settings (while others are deliberately designed to harvest your personal information).
On the subject of online privacy, there are advantages to using more than one web browser. The cookies that you accumulate while surfing the web are restricted to the particular web browser you happen to be using. By devoting one browser to specific tasks, such as logging into a Facebook or Google account, you will make it more difficult (though not impossible, sadly) for Facebook or Google to associate your personal details with the rest of your web behaviour.
New Techniques v Old Browsers
Things move fast in the world of web design: new techniques become available to designers all the time. But these techniques can only work when browsers are updated to accommodate them.
A browser’s useful lifetime is quite short: even a three–year–old version will be noticeably more limited and less versatile than the latest version of the same browser. Anything over five years old will not recognise some of the design techniques commonly used in modern websites, and should be considered obsolete.
Most browsers are updated frequently to take account of the newest techniques and, more importantly, the latest security features. Others get updated rarely or never. At the time of writing, Internet Explorer still exists on some people’s computers, even though Microsoft stopped supporting it some time ago.
A browser is the device through which you experience a web page. Using an old browser to view a modern, professional–quality website is like using a small black–and–white portable television to watch a high–quality DVD or Blu–Ray disc: you’ll get the basic experience, but you will miss out on most of the refined features. Web browsers, unlike televisions, are all free, so there’s really no excuse not to use the latest version!
Installed Web Browsers
These are the five web browsers which, between them, are installed on almost all current personal computers and mobile phones in the English–speaking world. You are very likely to be using one of these right now:
Included with many GNU/Linux operating systems, and available for Windows, Mac and Android systems; good range of add–ons, including adblockers; accurate interpretation of web standards. Download from https://www.mozilla.org/firefox.
Included with (and impossible to remove from) Android phones; widely installed on desktops and laptops; good at slurping unwary users’ data and sending it to Google. Download from https://www.google.com/chrome/.
Included with the Windows 10 operating system; available for earlier versions of Windows and for Android and iOS mobile operating systems; includes a PDF and ebook reader. Download from https://www.microsoft.com/en–gb/windows/microsoft-edge.
Included with earlier Windows systems; detested by web developers due to Microsoft’s appalling disregard of web standards. No longer available for download, and no longer given security updates by Microsoft.
Included with all Apple devices, and only available for Apple’s operating systems. Download from https://www.apple.com/safari/.
Good Alternative Web Browsers
Here are six other web browsers, all of which have particular features that make them worth trying out.
The first three browsers each contain a built–in adblocker, and are available for all operating systems:
- Brave: download from https://brave.com/.
- Opera: download from https://www.opera.com/.
- Maxthon: download from http://www.maxthon.com/.
These three have other features to recommend them:
- Chromium: open–source version of Chrome, without Chrome’s privacy risks. Download from https://www.chromium.org/Home.
- Vivaldi: very easy to customise the browser to suit your preferences. Download from https://vivaldi.com/.
- Midori: good privacy settings. Download from https://www.midori–browser.org/ (at the time of writing, Midori’s website is hopeless, full of gimmicky animations and containing little actual information).
Other Web Browsers
The following browsers are mostly aimed at particular classes of users or are relatively small–scale projects, but all are worth investigating:
- Tor: available for Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux, Android; aimed at the privacy–conscious; very secure; can be slow. Download from https://www.torproject.org/.
- Onion: version of Tor for the iOS operating system. Download from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/onion–browser/id519296448?mt=8.
- Lynx: basic, text–only browser; because it ignores images, pages load very quickly. Download from http://lynx.browser.org/.
- Konqueror: available for GNU/Linux only. Download from https://kde.org/applications/internet/org.kde.konqueror
- Falkon: available for Windows (7 or later) and GNU/Linux only. Download from https://www.falkon.org/.
- Pale Moon: available for Windows and GNU/Linux only. Download from http://www.palemoon.org/.
- SeaMonkey: includes many handy non–web–browsing features. Download from https://www.seamonkey–project.org/.
- Basilisk: available for Windows (7 or later) and GNU/Linux only. Download from http://www.basilisk–browser.org/.
- Yandex: from the Russian company behind the Yandex search engine; available for Windows, Apple and Android operating systems: Download from https://browser.yandex.com/.
- UC Web: available for mobile only; from the company behind Alibaba, the popular Chinese search engine; possible security problems. Download from https://www.ucweb.com/.
- Puffin: claims to be more secure than most; just about the only browser that charges a subscription; a free version is available but contains advertisements; available for mobile and desktop computers. Download from https://www.puffin.com/.
That’s more than 20 browsers for you to try out. There are others, many of which are for mobile operating systems only or are specialised versions of some of the browsers mentioned above.
Limitations of Browsers
There are dozens of individual versions of browsers currently in use, some of which are obsolete. Unfortunately, none of them agree on precisely how to represent every element of a web page. This is an insoluble problem for web designers; it is simply impossible to create an interesting design that works correctly in every version of every browser.
The compromise Lab 99 Web Design has chosen is to create websites that:
- work correctly in all of the modern visual browsers that abide by web standards;
- work appropriately in non–visual browsers such as screen readers (see our Accessibility section for information about these);
- and display the words and images correctly in obsolete browsers, though with no guarantee that the precise layout will work. In this context, an obsolete browser is one that was released more than five years ago. This includes Internet Explorer version 6, which came out as long ago as 2001 (and wasn’t very good even then).
Websites that are guaranteed to display perfectly in certain obsolete browsers will normally cause problems for the vast majority of visitors who use modern browsers. We will not create websites in this way unless specifically requested to. Our Accessibility section discusses some of the legal and other implications of designing for obsolete browsers.