I am often asked by people why a site will not display properly in some browsers, or even what are all these different browsers about. This post will go a little way to explaining why – I will do a more comprehensive factsheet to download when I have a bit more time. These are my personal findings and I am happy to amend anything that the producer of a browser believes is incorrect.
What is a browser?
The browser is the programme that you use to look at the internet. It will have names like Internet Explorer (IE), Safari, Firefox, Opera, Google Chrome, Konqueror or Netscape. Sometimes you look in a window that the company supplying your internet connection supplied, so it may have Yahoo, AOL, Virgin or similar stamped on it. I will explain how to find out which one you are using further down the page.
Some of you may have recently discovered these names, following a court ruling that Microsoft makes its users aware that they do have a choice.
Which browsers are least reliable?
This one is tricky to answer without legal repurcussions, but I’ll have a go.
The most ‘problems’ arise with people using Microsoft Windows users, who have not replaced or upgraded their browser.
Which browser do I have?
This will normally be the name on the icon that you click to get to the internet. As browsers change over the years they tend to keep the same name, but get a version number and it is useful to know this. You can find it by opening the browser and clicking on the help > about menu at the top. This will say something like Internet Explorer version 6.13.4, or ‘firefox 3.0.1’ for example. Make a note of the first two numbers (e.g. 6.13 or 3.0).
What do I do now?
If you are on Internet Explorer 7.xxx or a lower number, you should definitely change. Both versions have security problems, both have problems displaying some web pages and both are very slow compared to the alternatives.
Normally Microsoft windows updates regularly and free of charge, so this should be simple (I’ll detail it in the factsheet or you can look up ‘upgrade windows explorer’ in a search engine). As an alternative to a newer version of the browser that Windows supply, you can just as easily (and free of charge) use another one that is named above (at the time of writing both Firefox and Google Chrome are the most used in the world).
Which one is best?
This is a very personal choice and the differences vary almost daily. At the moment, most people find Opera displays pages the fastest, Chrome and Safari second, Firefox next and finally Internet Explorer(all versions) the slowest. Firefox has the most ‘extras’ that you can add to it with Chrome just behind – if you like extras you will know who you are. Chrome and Firefox are particularly simple to keep pop-up adverts away, which most people would appreciate.
Currently they are all free of charge, all except Internet Explorer will work on any computer, and none affect anything else that you use.
What would stop me from changing my browser?
Some larger organisations had programmes written to work on Internet Explorer 6 (mainly company intranets). Unfortunately, these might only work with Internet Explorer 6 so the organisation has a dilemma – upgrade Explorer to view the world’s current web pages properly and revamp the intranet, or keep the old intranet and lose out on the rest of the web. Nothing technical stops them from installing any of the other browsers for you to use the web efficiently now and keeping the old Explorer version just to access their intranet. There may be a problem with internal politics, but that should not prevent you from using the internet properly if your job requires it.
How has the internet coped so far?
In short, designers have had to create web pages according to the published web standards, then add extra bits of code that check what browser you are using and add extra bits of code to make them work. Others have chosen to ‘dumb down’ their site and use features that were build into the internet, but IE cannot handle.
For interest, both Google and Facebook (amongst others) have decided not to invest time from now onwards making their pages work with old browsers, because of the extra time and cost involved.
Do remember that the main points are:
- all the options are free of charge
- you can install several different browsers just to try them
- most will copy your existing favourites or bookmarks
- if you stay on IE 6 or IE7, you are definitely missing out on security, speed and features others have enjoyed for years.