Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Browser War isn't Over until the Fat Lady Sings

I have been a Firefox user for several years but I have come to realise that despite the Foxes tremendous power and flexibility it feels a bit old fashioned. In its default installation the screen is cluttered by tools and menu bars and Firefox's colour scheme and fonts lack the warm friendliness of its competitors. I know that Firefox is ridiculously customisable and you can get it to do just about anything you want and look like anything you want but it can be hard work keeping up with all these extensions. Most of the ones I really need (such as pop up blocking) have long since been incorporated into the standard browser tool-set. I have even stopped using Ad Block. Now that annoying pop-ups are automatically blocked the advent of fast broadband has removed any legitimate excuse to deny content providers of their advertising revenue.

I guess I never seriously considered Internet Explorer as a contender although it still pops up often enough when badly behaved programs insist on spawning IE to view a web page. Now at version 8 Internet Explorer has a veneer of shininess and with pop up blockers and tab functionality it is much much better than it used to be. It doesn't look or feel any better than Firefox though. In fact it feels pretty much like it is trying to copy Firefox without quite catching up.

Next up Google Chrome. This is a lightweight slimmed down browser that emphasises speed and usability. I have to admit it is very good at what it does. It feels very fast, pages generally load instantly. The screen has almost no clutter and the stuff you really need is readily to hand. Chrome seems to have far fewer options and settings than the other browsers I tried out but all the features I actually use seem to be in there. Some things I didn't like. It does commit the hallmark Google crime of trying to be cleverer than the user at times. For example if you open a blank tab it will pull up a tableau of your eight most commonly visited web pages. Smart menus are usually a bad idea and this one seems to be a particularly silly implementation. I can think of lots of reasons why people might not be too happy with a big list of their most commonly visited pages popping up every time they open a new tab. My biggest complaint about Chrome though is that it comes from Google. Google already has enormous control over the internet through their ubiquitous search engine and I think it would be safer not to allow one company to have even more control over the world's most important information resource.

I first tried Opera about ten years ago when you still had to pay for it. I quickly realised two things: i) that it was light years ahead of other browsers of the time and ii) that it was complicated to use, nothing seeming to be standard. Returning to to Opera which is now at version 10 my first impression was that it seems to have gotten a lot easier to use. Clicking, right clicking and wheel clicking all do what I expect them to do. Whether this is because Opera has deliberately migrated towards industry standard controls or because the industry standard has finally caught up with Opera I don't know. Opera looks lovely too. The default interface is minimalist but the menus are easy to find and appear to offer full functionality. You don't actually need to use the menus often if you learn to use mouse gestures for common tasks. Opera's implementation of speed dial which allows you to choose which pages appear every time you open a blank tab is much more sensible than Chrome's in my opinion. A minor gripe is that the Opera comes with the Ask tool bar integrated. I don't like Ask because it gives far too many irrelevant sponsored links to dig through before you get to the real results of your search query. Nevertheless it can be removed by editing the search preferences so it is not a deal breaker.

So.. As you may have guessed I am now an Opera user. It may not have the enormous flexibility of Firefox but it does everything I want it to do and it looks and feels clean and modern. The ability to use Turbo mode to save bandwidth on my laptop is a bonus as is the ability to sync between desktop opera and the opera mini I use on my phone.


Tesh said...

I guess I should try it out. I use Firefox at home, and I'm stuck with Chrome at work. I really miss AdBlock's ability to block any given graphic with a simple right click "kill" command.

mbp said...

Definitely worth trying Tesh. I don't know if it has that functionality (you can block images though) but I haven't found all the tricks yet.

Interesting to hear that your work forces you to use Chrome. Any place I have ever worked has been a Microsoft shop through and through.