I commented on his post how I recalled the good old days when Netscape was testing beta versions of its revolutionary Navigator browser. Now those were exciting times. And while, yes, a new Firefox version is interesting, it’s also just as scary. Firefox is just another browser in a crowded marketplace.
You’ve also got Flock, Safari, Opera, OmniWeb, the new hoax browzar (don’t go there!), and the aging behemoth Internet Explorer. And those are just the ones I’m aware of. There are all sorts of iterations of Firefox’s open source engine, and Safari’s open source WebKit. Zoiks!
I don’t mind all this competition, but the problem is that each of these browsers looks, acts, feels, and interacts with web content differently, creating all variety of experiences for users.
I mean, just today I tried out Safari, Firefox, and Flock on a set of
web sites and my experiences were different in each one. First,
the browsers behaved and organized their interfaces differently. Then
there were subtle and, in some cases, major differences in the way the
browsers each rendered and presented information from web sites.
For example, the blogging interface on TypePad is much more feature-rich for Firefox users than it is for Safari users. And twice this week I’ve had technical support staff suggest that I might remedy a problem I’m having by “trying a different web browser”.
Back in the 90s, the last great browser war took place between Netscape
Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Like the nation-states of
World War II, the battle lines were clearly drawn.
These days its more
like guerrilla warfare. There are multiple versions of multiple
different browswers in use and, unfortunately, each offers its own form
of web user experience, both within its own interface and in regards to
web sites and applications.
Average users can’t be expected to jump around between different pieces of software to engage with the web effectively. They’ll just pick a browser and stick with it. Sites that don’t work, they’ll ignore. And if enough sites stop working, they’ll grow frustrated and disenchanted with the web.
Considering the wide assortment of open sources projects, no doubt this is the way the web experience will continue to evolve. But is it healthy? Can we expect the web to splinter into “browser camps” of information? Are the days of the “whole web” over? And what impact will this have on widespread use of the web over time?
And here’s the big question: is it all moot with the imminent release of Windows Vista and its new version of Internet Explorer?
Ah, lofty questions indeed for 6am.