Remember how PC and Mac owners once argued about the relative speed of their computers?
There was a time when a computer’s speed, for whatever it was worth, was measured in megahertz, then gigahertz. These days no one cares much about speed.
What about browsers? There are many good browsers available, for Mac and Windows. Which one is the fastest? Does anyone care? Why does it matter?
When Apple introduced Safari for the Mac it was an instant hit, so much so that not long afterwards Microsoft dumped the much-used and oft-hated Internet Explorer for Mac.
Safari was and remains an elegant browser, which, over the years began to set a defacto Mac standard for performance and page rendering. Along the way Mozilla improved Firefox, Mac and Windows, and the browser wars ignited again.
Browsers are free, right? Who makes money on a browser? Even the basic engine which drives Safari, WebKit, is available for all Mac and Windows users.
Firefox on both platforms has hundreds of add ons, which add functionality. Firefox page rendering has improved, both to adhere to XHTML and CSS web standards, and in performance; page load times.
Safari continues to improve, too, adding page render speed, a few extra features, and is cross platform, available for Macs, Windows PCs, and the iPhone and iPod touch.
Why so many battles over a browser that is essentially free? Why does it matter that one browser is faster and more accurate than another?
Because Netscape’s dream lives on. The Netscape Navigator became the browser window to the future world of the internet, and was not platform dependent. That meant that a user need not worry whether they were using a Mac, a Windows PC, or whatever PC.
The browser was to become the interface to the future. Microsoft recognized that and took great effort to squash Netscape out of existence. Then, along came Firefox, Opera, open source software, Apple’s Safari, and a host of others, including the promising Chrome browser from Google.
All have a similar dream—to create the platform independent window to the internet. Microsoft’s efforts to destroy Netscape went for naught. There are many Netscapes today, and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser continues to lose market share.
Among popular browsers today, and there are many, most of them highly capable, popular, fast with accurate page rendering, two stand out as examples of what a little competition can do. Firefox and Safari.
Click the Acid Test link. If you’re using any popular browser, the resulting page load test will fail. If you’re using WebKit’s latest version, which looks amazingly like Apple’s Safari, it will pass with flying colors.
Who cares? Speed, features, functionality, security, dependability, are, arguably all those important aspects of a browser. Safari, Firefox, even Internet Explorer have improved in each aspect.
Google’s new Chrome browser, which is also based on WebKit, aims to take the browser to that level often envisioned by Netscape back in the 1990s. This time there is no Microsoft to stand in the way.
Not all browsers are created equal. Firefox does some things far better than Safari (lets me use my bank’s online services). Internet Explorer is still used by more people worldwide than all browsers combined.
For now, WebKit, what’s used in Safari, is fast, stable, renders pages well, passes the major tests. Regardless, the browser wars are not over, and the stakes are so high that the battles will continue for many years. We all win.