A browser is a program used for viewing web pages. Most PCs come with Microsoft Internet Explorer installed as the default; Macs come with Apple Safari.
Behind the scenes of every website lies a set of instructions that tell the browser how the website should look and behave. This set of instructions is known as 'code' or 'coding'.
Believe it or not, some browsers are better than others at following these instructions. If a browser doesn't correctly follow the instructions in the code, it may not display a website correctly. Browsers also vary in:
- Stability (likelihood of crashing)
- Security loopholes
- Support of web standards
- Support of different types of graphics
- Accessibility features
This can have a big impact on your web browsing experience so it's well worth investigating the various alternatives.
Perhaps the most significant aspect determining a browser's behaviour will be it's age. Recent developents have resulted in many more instructions being made available for use in the code. These new instructions enable web designers to create some beautiful effects, however, they will simply not be recognised by older browsers. Websites built using modern coding techniques and complying to web standards often do not not work properly in Internet Explorer version 6 (IE6).
The Main Browsers
Microsoft Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer (IE) has a large market share - mainly because Internet Explorer is distributed with most Windows PCs. At the time of writing, the latest version of IE is version 9. With version 9, Microsoft have worked on the speed, security and web standards issues present in previous versions.
Previous versions of Internet Explorer pose significant problems for web designers as they don't follow coding instructions correctly and they don't support many recent key developments. Although we test our websites on Internet Explorer versions 7 and 8, we have recently dropped support for IE6 since these days it thankfully only accounts for about 1% of web usage in the UK and 6% worldwide. Even Microsoft have acknowledged the problems with IE6, see The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown for more information. If you're using a previous version of Internet Explorer (you can check which version you have by opening IE and clicking Help > About), we'd strongly recommend upgrading to version 9 or - even better - Chrome or Firefox (both free).
Chrome provides a simple, easy-to use interface and it's fast. In Chrome, the address bar and search box have been merged - type in the address bar and get suggestions for both search and web pages. The home page shows thumbnails of the sites you visit frequently so you can access your favourite pages instantly. Chrome was initially launched for PCs but a Mac version is now available. Chrome leads the way in supporting the latest developments in web design. Some fantastic examples can be seen at Chrome Experiments - but of course you will need Chrome for them to work properly!
Firefox is a popular browser that is free and available for both Macs and PCs. Firefox has always been way ahead of IE in supporting web standards. Add-ons, created by third-party developers, of which there is a wide selection, are a feature that has attracted many of Firefox's users.
Despite being developed by Apple, Safari is available for PCs as well as Macs. Safari is also the default browser on iPhones and iPads.
Opera is free for both Mac and PCs. It has a very small share of the computer browsing market but a stronger share of the mobile device market.
So what would we recommend?
To fully appreciate the web at it's best and full potential we would recommend Google Chrome with Firefox and Safari coming a close second. All these browsers are free and will import your bookmarks from Internet Explorer. Not only will you be helping exasperated web designers, but you'll also have a richer, faster, more secure browsing experience.
Not convinced? If you're using Internet Explorer, you won't see the duck swing on this site. And nobody wants to miss a swinging duck!