The great browser debate is about to get about as trivial as a choice between toothpastes. I say this because with the latest release of Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4 – all of our browsers are starting to look, well, exactly the same!
I’m not saying that is a bad thing. Browsers are all starting to co-evolve to some ideal browsing experience where the browser takes a back seat to content. Back when IE was competing against Netscape and Mozilla there was a great deal of variety in how various web tasks were accomplished. Now everyone is seeming to agree on a sort of same-y browser user interface. I’m not looking at Opera here because they seem to be on their own warpath, and while I sometimes feel like Opera has a lot going for it – I never seem to catch and stick with it (nor do many).
Browsers have had tabs for a while now (IE7 being the first Microsoft browser with tabs), but it seems they are mostly agreeing to have tabs be placed on the traditional Windows title bar. IE9 does it slightly differently and puts the tabs on the same row at the URL bar, saving some pixels in the process – but leaving a suspiciously large amount of blank space at the top of the browser. That said, the navigation bar in FF and Chrome is unnecessarily long, so I think these two balance out. Having the tabs on the very top is ideal because it previously would display the name of the webpage you were currently looking at … so why not use it to display tabs which already have the title in it.
This is where Firefox goes disco on us and throws Panorama into the mix. Basically you can press Ctrl-shift-E or click a button and you can view all your tabs as little windows and you can group them into bunches. That way you can separate work from your news stuff you were reading, from that search on the mating habits of great white sharks – all in little bins. I can’t describe it, it’s magic. Here’s a picture. Look at it. With your eyes.
The URL bar is becoming the predominant way of navigation and interaction with the web – with it doing searches, bookmarking, historical list of searches, as well as ‘old fashioned’ URL handling. Firefox goes so far as to call it their “Awesome-bar”. Note: in my first picture I removed the “Search bar” in Firefox because it serves zero purpose – my homepage is Google and the Awesome-bar works wonders for search anyways.
The height of the main bar of each browser is as follows:
But really … who cares. I did however look at it for a few minutes and IE9 could literally take up about 20 pixels and keep all it’s functionality. Just by moving everything up to that wasted black space above it. My photoshop hack of what it could look like. Click to enlarge (not a Viagra ad)
I must say I prefer Chrome’s placement of the home button and refresh on the left hand side. It’s where you do your navigation (back and forward) so why wouldn’t you want to do Home and Refresh there as well. Annnnd that’s all I have to say about that.
I’ve always been in the camp that said Chrome is the fastest thing since my 486 … and I still sort of hold that as true. Apparently some sites say FF is much faster than Chrome and this may be true – but it’s not only the web page rendering that has to be fast. Chrome is lightweight on the operating system. Firefox has to reboot and restart and start up and start down about 10 times per session and it’s incredibly clunky in comparison.
That said – IE9 is fast. I mean … really fast. I can’t believe I said that – because I have literally taken part in satanic rituals in hopes of banishing Internet Explorer 5,6,7,8 from this plane of existence …. but it’s true. Apart from the 5 minute install where it basically bricks your computer and says, “Hand off … I’m having my way with your hard-drive,” the browser runs extremely quickly. I’m running on a Macbook Pro that’s pretty beefy so maybe that’s some of the “hardware acceleration” kicking in … but whatever it is, I don’t care – it’s fast. Note: IE9 is Windows 7 and Vista only. Bye-bye XP, we’ll miss you!
I’m writing this article in Firefox 4 right now, but it’s having some serious issues with Flash. The panorama feature is amazing and the addons are more polished than Chrome’s plugins. IE still has bad blood with me, but I’m trying my gosh-darned hardest to like it.
Chrome is still the outright winner with it’s rapid boot-up, minimalist interface, and good selections of plugins. FF4 in a close second with open-source goodness, panorama view, and enough plugins to keep your chubby fingers browsing away for years to come. IE9 …. well, it showed up late for the party but at least it’s here.