My personal browser war

October 10, 2010

Remember the first browser war? I do. I was on Netscape’s side. For better or worse, they lost.

I’m not here to bore you with war stories. I’m just trying to put a picture in your mind. Back then there were two big browsers, and the underdog (Microsoft) stole the show from the market leader (Netscape).

Today, a lot of people still look at the web through an Internet Explorer window, but some sources say that it’s no longer most people. This time there is more than one underdog – and that’s awesome! Except, I can’t figure out what side I’m on anymore. To be more clear, I know I’m behind WebKit, I just can’t figure out which vendor is proving the best experience.

The contenders in my personal browser war are Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari. At home, I do my browsing in Safari. It’s the browser I started using in 2003 after being a long time Navigator / Communicator / Mozilla user. It’s extremely solid, fast, elegant, and has exceptional developer tools. These features have come over time, and Apple has done a great job of not letting the default browser for Mac OS X fall behind in terms of features. They’ve even given back to the community with the WebKit project, although this hasn’t always gone smoothly. In short, Safari rocks – Chrome just rocks a bit differently.

I started with Chrome in December of 2009. I decided that I would use it for a week before going back to Safari. I didn’t go back. Not at work, anyway. Its developer tools were always closer to the WebKit nightly releases than Safari’s, and that meant a lot. Plus the syntax highlighted “View Source”, the middle-click-to-close tabs, the unified URL bar… I was hooked.

So why not use Chrome at home? Well, Safari has its own set of features. Inline PDF viewing being chief among them. Most recently, the addition of Reader has kept the scales balanced, too. More than that, though, Safari still feels more solid. The text entry areas in Safari benefit from Cocoa goodness (meaning spell checking works in all text fields, as does the dictionary/thesaurus, and applicable Mac OS X services), where Chrome’s text fields don’t.

These are minor nit-picks however. The main point is, for the first time in the history of my use of the web, I don’t have a favourite browser. I have two. Perhaps one or the other will become a clear winner in the future, but for now the war continues to rage. At least in my head.