Why are there different web browsers?

May 11, 2008 business
This post is more than 18 months old. Since technology changes too rapidly, this content may be out of date (but that's not always the case). Please remember to verify any technical or programming information with the current release.

In the same way that not everyone drives a Honda, we find that we have different web browsers. For the beginner to the Internet, this might come as a surprise. Normally, they are only used to the default browser on their computer. For example, Windows users are familiar with Internet Explorer. Mac users might be familiar with Safari.

In the same way that car companies each have their strengths and weaknesses, web browsers have the same. Each one isn’t the same – they have different features – and even interpret the screen and content differently. It is possible for one browser to display CSS different than another one. Because of this, your website may not always look the exact same in each browser. Considerable care can be taken to make sure that most of the site looks the same on most browsers. You might use automobile road design as an example. The incline of a driveway may be fine for most cars, like the Honda, but a Ferrari might rub its front end entering the driveway. Generally, it’s acceptable to develop towards the majority – and hope for the best for the minority.

I don’t want to bore you with the history of browsers, where the big players came from and why. Let’s just compare the 4 main ones to get an idea of what’s out there.

Internet Explorer – Microsoft

Microsoft installs Internet Explorer by default with every version of Windows. Since most PCs have Windows, most users are familiar with Internet Explorer – it’s their first way onto the internet. Since Microsoft owns Windows and Internet Explorer, and installs them together, Internet Explorer is very integrated with Windows. There have been security issues because of this integration in the past. Internet Explorer was also available for Mac for a period of time. Finally, Microsoft tried to exercise its market dominance by creating their own standards and generating their own interpretation of CSS, JS and HTML. Because of this, Internet Explorer sometimes generates web pages out of compliance with the standards that were built for HTML, CSS and JS. I generally recommend against using Internet Explorer – especially for the casual web surfer who isn’t as familiar with their computer.

FireFox – Mozilla

FireFox is an open source browser with roots from the Mozilla corporation (Think ‘netscape’). FireFox has versions of itself available for many different operating systems, including Windows, Linux and Mac. Generally, FireFox has been more secure than Internet Explorer because of its separation from the operating system as well as its open source available for audit. This may not always be the case, however. Also, FireFox tends to be more rigid to standards and renders HTML, CSS and JS more accurately than Internet Explorer. I recommend FireFox for the casual surfer because of its security features. Advanced surfers may also appreciate its plugin based system where they can add extra features to their browser easily.

Safari - Mac

In the same way that Internet Explorer was a default for Windows, Safari is the default for Mac. Safari always seemed to be behind when it came to supporting features of the internet and sticking with standards, but that seems to be less the case lately. Additionally, Safari is now available for other platforms like Windows.


With roots as the third party browser with both professional and free-ad-supported versions, Opera has always been a unique feature promoter. Opera’s support of standards is growing stronger each release – keep an eye out to watch for the newest versions of Opera – and their expansion to mobile devices.

What Does This Mean To Me?

Your web site firm should determine which may be the primary 2 browsers visitors will use to visit your website. For example, if you’re a non-technical site, you can probably bet on Internet Explorer first, then perhaps FireFox. If you’re a website about digital video editing equipment, you can probably bet a lot of Macs with Safari will be visiting, as well as FireFox. If you’re a technical research site, you might find that FireFox followed by Opera are your most common visitors. With this in mind, your firm should test the design, layout and functionality with at least those two browsers. Any additional testing is a plus. You may not choose to test with both browsers – but you should ask for the results of their testing with those browsers. Any irregularities should be noted. They may not make a lot of sense to ‘change,’ but it is something you should be aware of. Do not accept responses like “This just won’t work in FireFox” if it is one of your targeted browsers. Instead, ask what can be done to provide a consistent experience.

102 Degrees always tests with Internet Explorer and FireFox. When we determine that additional browsers might be used more frequently, we’ll test with those as well.

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