A lot of people wouldn’t be able to tell you what internet browser they use despite the fact that they spend huge amounts of each day using it. Some may not even be aware what exactly a browser is (it’s the thing you click on to get onto the internet). Historically, there were big differences between the various web browsers, and distinct reasons to pick one over the other.
Going back a few years, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was by far and away the dominating force in this area, with 95% of everyone on the internet using it at its peak. However, many statistics show it has recently lost the most popular browser crown to Google’s Chrome.
So does the browser you use matter anymore? Is there a reason to make a proactive choice here? The EU certainly think so, as Microsoft found out to their cost. Anyone that has installed a copy of Windows recently (or got a new machine) will have noticed that they have to pick a browser to use as part of the installation process. This is due to the fact that it was determined that Microsoft should no longer be able to force Internet Explorer on Windows users as a matter of course, and that it had to be offered amongst other popular browsers to all users.
Internet Explorer’s main competitors (in the West, at least), are Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari. Until about 3 years ago, Firefox was Internet Explorer’s main rival, at one point hitting about 30% of all users. However, that has fallen back to about 20% of late, probably largely due to people switching to Chrome. As for Safari, that is largely limited to Apple users only (both desktop and mobile) and so is currently hovering at about 10% overall usage.
It used to be that there were some very obvious visual differences between these browsers. However, if you were to open Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome side-by-side now, you’ll notice there’s very little difference between them.
So if they look the same, do they all work the same? Certainly, in the past, anyone “in the know” would have told you to avoid Internet Explorer at all costs. It used to be that Microsoft had their own idea of how the internet should work that didn’t always match the way that other browsers (correctly) implemented it. This lead to web developers having to either extensively test websites in multiple browsers, and often having to write reams of extra code to get Internet Explorer looking the same as the others, or slapping a “Works best in X browser” on the site. This is why you will occasionally still find sites that only work in Internet Explorer. Not because it is better in any way – just because it was the most widely used browser at the time and there was a lack of time and / or resources to repeat a large chunk of work to get the site working elsewhere. Fortunately, however, these days are largely over. With the death of Windows XP comes the demise of the most troublesome of these old Internet Explorer versions (6, 7, and to some extent, 8).
So this really just leaves how they work “under the hood”. In this respect, it tends to be Chrome and Firefox trading blows for the “fastest” browser, with Internet Explorer lagging behind a little, although this gap is closing (and in some circumstances, it is the quickest). However, we’re talking fractions of a second difference here – not enough to recommend one over the other really.
So, in conclusion, your choice of browser these days is far less important than it used to be. At 3aIT, we usually divide our time between Chrome and Firefox and would recommend either of these browsers to our clients. However, if you’re using the most recent version of Internet Explorer (11) now and you’re happy with it, the difference between this and the other browsers is no longer great enough that we would suggest looking elsewhere.