Better Browser, Better Web

by Mike

Designing for the web is different than designing for print in countless ways, many of which come down to the differences in how the two are consumed. For example, print designers see the finished product as it will be seen by end-users. Web designers, on the other hand, have to account for all sorts of variability in end-use, including differences in users’ screen resolution, computer and internet speeds, and choice of web browser.

As the Mozilla Foundation’s Open to Choice campaign puts it, “the Web browser is the lens through which we look at the virtual world, and the medium by which we connect, learn, share and collaborate.” However, some people don’t know they even have a choice of web browser. The computer on almost every office desk is a PC running Windows that came out of the box with IE already installed. (One wonders whether incorporation comes with a Microsoft contract.)

With a little over 50% of the usage share of web browsers, Internet Explorer is indeed an institution. But it is a good product? Does it load web pages as fast as other browsers do? Does it allow users to customize it? Does it protect users’ online security and privacy? Does it render websites the way designers intend?

No, nono, and… almost.

While different web browsers may render the web differently, making “cross-browser compatibility” tricky sometimes, web standards such as those produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C) are designed to reduce that variability to near nil, ensuring the web renders as intended no matter which “lens” the user is looking through.

Web standards matter because they ensure everyone the same experience on the web; reduce the amount of time and money wasted trying to design one way for one browser and another way for another browser; and give developers guidelines to ensure their work is accessible to those with disabilities.

Internet Explorer is, at best, slow to adopt web standards, and even slower to adopt experimental, cutting-edge stuff. But it’s not like rounded corners that are all-code-no-images are going to make your experience of the web more open, safe, easy and fast. There are plenty of other reasons, like the ones described above, to ditch IE.

Firefox is made by Mozilla, a strong advocate for keeping the web public, open and accessible:

The Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible. It’s the most powerful communication tool in the history of humanity and the nervous system of trade, education, governance, activism, and play. It lets a single idea achieve global impact. All without needing someone else’s approval or permission…. The web must be protected from confusion, monopoly, exploitation, centralization and control.

Opera accounts for about 2.5% of the global market share of web browsers. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize there are almost 2 billion people online.

Chrome is just plain fast. Faster than a potato gun. Faster than sound waves. Faster than lightning.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.