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Browser Wars, Again

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The modern browser isn’t simply a way of accessing content, it’s a virtual machine. It runs sophisticated client-side applications built in Flash, AJAX and Java. Perhaps recognizing this, Apple, eager to see its Safari browser on more than just Macs, recently decided to enlarge its PC installed base by including the browser in an iTunes update. Mozilla CEO John Lilly was quick to respond, saying it bordered on malware distribution. Nasty stuff.

On the mobile front, Opera Mini has decent market share, and the Skyfire mobile browser made a splash with its perfect rendering of web sites that don’t survive the mobile experience well, albeit only for Windows Mobile. And with the third release of Firefox approaching, Mozilla is reporting impressive performance and memory management numbers.

Efficient memory management is critical for browsers that don’t crash and respond quickly, particularly when they’re running complex applications within them. Consider project management startup LiquidPlanner, or database-meets-spreadsheet Blist, both of which use Adobe’s Flash. Or Gmail, which runs on an AJAX framework. Then there’s all those plug-ins, from diagnostic tools to helper applications. It’s not unusual for browsers to consume over 200 megabytes of computer memory when running.

Browsers have made computers interchangeable; most of us can work on whatever machine we have at hand, be it a PC, Mac or an XO laptop. As a result, the browser is the new desktop. Today’s browser competition is less about who renders HTML properly, and more about what the incumbent browser is and how well it accommodates whatever new applications the Internet throws its way.

22 Responses to “Browser Wars, Again”

  1. People get dependent on Internet totally now. So its obvious that there will be wars among browsers. Because browsers are the windows for the internet. Through which people can enjoy the whole web.

  2. The interchangeable idea is nice, but it seems like most web developers don’t pay much attention to the less popular browsers. Its the 80 – 20 rule all over again.

    Unfortunately, I think it is the responsibility of the smaller browsers (Opera) to make sure they are 100% compatible with the big guys.

  3. Alistair – Actually most SaaS project software achieve the same functionality. All without Flash. This Project Software for example. I wonder how these PM software will perform on Google Chrome, one of the reasons that I hesitate to use web based Project software is that the performance is NEVER good. There is always a delay on every action.

  4. @Alistair – You can say that again! LiquidPlanner (which actually is pure browser, no Flash) pushes the limits of the browser hard. In our early testing with Firefox 3 we’ve seen really impressive gains in raw performance. With a project management application that does scheduling, it’s really easy to produce some big complicated pages. The schedule view is a combination of task grids and schedule bars with even more things like “uncertainty” overlays and dependancy graphics layered on. Add to that all the Javascript for things like drag and drop and suddenly memory and object management is a big deal.

  5. From a Windows systems/network management perspective, it would be nice to see non-Microsoft browsers integrate with Group Policies in an Active Directory environment.

    I believe that alternative browsers would be adopted much more quickly in some of the larger shops if they could provide the same integration and management features to administrators that MS broswers so, in this regard.

    Just my 2c

  6. I agree that the wars that browsers are waging now are much harsher than those in the past. But its not just memory management; its making sure that the web remains usable. Meaning everything from semantics, to memory management, to just being transparent to the end user. The browser that does this best wins the better battle.

    But if developers don’t code things nicely, no amount of fudging by the browser will be able to make up for that.