The crowded field of web browsing7/27/2016
It is amazing how open the world seems once you realize you have options. Once you discover life exists beyond high school, you can do whatever you want, and for that matter, be who you truly want to be. Whether it be about an apartment, a car, a washer/dryer, or a mattress, as soon as you start making adult decisions, you find out the true value of a dollar. But in technology, it seems, these lessons occur with every new innovation. For instance, a multitude of smartphone, laptop and desktop options exist, but what initially seems trivial can immediately become paradigm altering. The best example of the power of choice in tech may be the web browser.
Web surfing first started resembling what it is today in the mid-1990s. At that time, home PCs were overwhelmingly the home computing tool of choice, and the main tool for web browsing was Internet Explorer. Of course, many people were reaching the Internet through services like America Online, but many of those subscribers didn’t understand how to surf the web without the use of Internet Explorer.
For the time, place and content available on the World Wide Web, Internet Explorer was a fine tool. Saying you were proficient in web technology in 1997 is akin to an American citizen today saying he or she has visited Cuba; it’s not completely foreign, but the sample size is rare. The ’90s iteration of Internet Explorer offered many familiar features like bookmarks, navigation, refresh, copy/paste and font manipulation, but compared to what’s offered today, it is child’s play.
By the early 2000s, competitors started to crop up. The biggest splash came with the release of Mozilla Firefox, which loaded pages faster, was more stable, tabbed browsing, warned users to security concerns, and featured the ability to manipulate content through third-party add-on software. These features were game-changers, and for what seemed like the first time, casual web users discovered they had a choice in web browsing. Slowly, other alternatives started to gain traction in home computing such as Netscape, Apple’s Safari browser, Opera Software’s browser, and before too long, Google entered the mix with Chrome.
Leave it to a web services company to redefine the standard in web browsing. In its short, nine-year life span, Google Chrome has not only supplanted Internet Explorer as the No. 1 web browsing tool, but it is used by more web users than its competitors combined. Built with a similar ethos to Firefox, Google brought new thinking to how web content can interact with users. Suddenly browsers offered bookmark and sharing across devices, dynamic and interactive sites such as Google Documents and Google Drive were able to word process and design content across multiple users, and innovation and security were ramped up through the direct involvement of the very people who used the tool.
While Chrome may currently be king of the hill, there’s no guarantee it will be there forever. Upstart browsers like Vivaldi focus on user shortcuts and act more like a mobile browser with zooming and content swiping, or Maxathon, which doesn’t incorporate a great deal of extensions but focuses more on quick content loading and the opportunity to download all media displayed on a page.
Today, choice is abundant in the browsing arena. Choice abounds so much, it actually killed off Internet Explorer, with Microsoft replacing it with a new “Edge” browser last year. Will it retake the mantle IE lost? Anything could happen, but with dozens of browsers on the market now, it’s hard to see users regressing to the friendly face of Microsoft. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.