The introduction of Mosaic in 1993, the first graphical web browser, led to an upsurge in the use of the world wide web. It was followed in 1994 by Netscape Navigator, which became the most popular browser of that time, used by over 90% of web users.
Microsoft Internet Explorer was launched in 1995 and, mostly because it is bundled in with Windows, has been the dominant browser for a long time. Its usage peaked at 95% in 2002 but other browsers have since joined the fray, including Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Google Chrome. This means that users now have a genuine choice when choosing which is the best one for them.
The main purpose of a browser is to bring resources to the user, which are identified and accessed by typing a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) as the resource’s address. This address normally identifies a website but can be any location where data is to be transferred or can be a local file.
The browser is becoming more commonly used simply because many applications that were previously processed on the desktop are now accessed remotely. The advent of ‘cloud computing’, where applications and files are stored at a data center and users can be anywhere in the world, can only accelerate this growth in browser use.
This increasing reliance on a web browser makes it all the more important that the most suitable one is available. Users are less likely to accept the one that comes with their PC and often wish to choose one that they favor.
The criteria for selecting a browser are many. One that is often voiced is an irrational hatred of Microsoft and a preference for anything that doesn’t come out of Redmond. However, a more reasoned and logical approach should be adopted when choosing a browser.
All browsers have similarities although each one has its own features and way of working. Most will now support rich user interfaces and many will have tabbed windows with several open at the same time, pop-up blockers, book marked pages, RSS feeds and plug-ins. Some have additional features to support email, chat and news.
The only real way you can make a reasoned choice is to identify your must-haves and important features and then find the browser that ticks all the boxes. There may be particular security and performance issues that influence your choice. The good thing is that browsers are available for free download so there’s no cost in finding out which is best for you.
One factor that may force your hand is that some websites are designed for particular browsers. They may not work at all with other browsers or some features may be unavailable. There are moves to reverse this trend so that sites are viewable generally. However, until this becomes reality, you may be forced into using a mainstream browser that is not your first choice, simply because it makes most sites accessible.