Browser wars 2016

We are presented with a plethora of options when it comes to browsers and devices to access the web with, but which ones do the world at large use? Does this make a difference in how we design and build websites? This can be a rather math heavy topic, with various percentages and such, so prepare yourselves and I’ll try to keep the graphs to a minimum!

How do all the browsers stack up?

Showing the browser usage worldwide for the last year to May 2016
Showing the browser usage worldwide for the last year to May 2016

The first realisation is that Chrome holds the overwhelming majority of users, by a long shot! And finding out that Internet Explorer(IE)/Edge, the old king, has just now dropped below Firefox. As a developer this is frankly awesome. For so long Microsofts IE was the defacto standard but they were also the most stubborn when making it “standards compliant”. Basically the W3C (World Wide Web consortium) laid down the rules for how browsers should interpret webpage code when it reads it, and Chrome, Firefox, Opera, etc with the exception of IE made their browsers standards compliant.

But what about mobile browsing?

Using our phones to browse the internet is fast becoming a focus of web design, as the amount of traffic from mobile devices is steadily increasing. Since June 2015 there’s been a steady decrease in browsing on Windows 7/8.1, which correlates somewhat to Windows 10 but a larger relationship is seen between the rise of Android web browsing. As time moves along we, as users, prefer to use the internet wherever we are as opposed to waiting until we have access to a laptop or desktop.

Browsing organised by operating system.
Browsing organised by operating system.

How does this affect our design and development of websites?

Felicity wrote a great article on responsive design, Why are we making the website responsive?. Development is really my wheelhouse and this shift to mobile and standards compliant browsers changes the way we code websites in wonderful ways. In terms of standards compliance we can now utilise the whole toolset of the modern web, HTML5 and CSS3, and even newer things than that. Having to code anything that was marginally complex for both ‘normal’ browsers and internet explorer 8 was arduous, requiring a vast amount of tweaking to get code working on the archaic browser. And even between browsers there were rules in which a developer needed to add prefixes for each browser. One for Firefox (-moz-) and one for Webkit Chrome/Opera/Safari (-webkit-), one for old versions of Opera (-o-) and of course Microsoft (-ms-).

But a day approaches where there will be consistency between browsers, allowing developers to be able to show the same exact design to everyone no matter which browser they choose to use. And as Felicity mentioned in her responsive post, all this content will adapt to different sized screens and allow people to further view the same content, albeit in a different layout, on any sized device as well. On the development side of things we have access to wonderful frameworks such as Bootstrap, which allows us to make content responsive with the addition of just a few words in our code. Using a framework helps our development team to be more efficient and we can develop sites much quicker.

But wait, you have options!

This might seem like an odd thing to say, but I want to let you know about some of the options you might have with browsing on desktop and your phones. The market share of Google Chrome speaks very much for itself but it is by no means the only browser and some of the less well known browsers make great offerings. Here’s a brief list of three mobile and desktop browsers you might not have heard of! This is by no means all that’s out there but rather is meant to make you aware that there’s quite a lot of options for browsing.


smartphones

Mobile

Dolphin

A slick browser for iOS and Android that supports gesture based navigation. If you go to a few sites often you can just draw a letter or gesture to navigate there, an F for Facebook, and S for St Andrews, really whatever you’d like.

Opera mini

A little browser available on iOS, Android and Windows phone, with a focus on data conservation. Great for either slow connections or people wanting to use a minimal amount of data.

Android: TOR browser or iOS: VPN Browser

Put on your tin foil hats and take a look at these mobile browsers if you want a secure alternative to normal browsers. They’ll both encrypt your web traffic and send it through the Tor network, which you can do some more reading here at the Tor project.


Desktop

Vivaldi

Offering a ton of customisation options, and as well as running on Webkit (which means you can use Google Chrome extensions and plugins), makes this an extremely versatile browser. If you aren’t happy with where modern browsers have put the url bar, bookmarks, etc, then give Vivaldi a go.

Opera

Opera is a venerable web browser that pioneered many of the features we know and love in modern browsers, and it’s still a fast and reliable browser. Initially released in 1995 it predates even Google as a company! But if Chrome and Firefox seem a little bloated and heavy for you, or you find yourself not needing all the plugins they offer then Opera might be a great choice. As with the vast majority of browsers available on desktop, it’s free, so you’ve nothing to lose by checking it out!

Tor browser

I hope you didn’t put your tin foil hats away, because this is the desktop Tor browser. Encrypting your traffic and anonymising your IP address, you can view websites without bias from advertisers or without your internet provider monitoring your traffic. Many people don’t like advertisers, like Google, knowing everything about you and therefore serving up targeted advertising right at you. Perhaps even skewing search results to drive you to a certain product? Many people use Tor to mitigate this. Although it’s worth noting that this isn’t for watching US Netflix (or any streaming video) but rather just normal browsing. Because of the encryption and proxy servers it routes through it’s not the fastest browsing experience but it is anonymous and secure.

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