The Browser Wars

by Krishna on April 21, 2007

Over the past few months, many of my contacts, including several non-technical users, have been switching over to Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0 from version 6. I have been pleasantly surprised to note that many of them have adapted to the new interface easily even though there have been significant changes from the previous version.

Most of the non-technical users I deal with use Internet Explorer as IE is the default browser in the default operating system (Windows) they use. Based on my experience so far, although Firefox has much going for it, I don’t see significant number of non-technical users switching over. Fundamentally, this has to do with the common browsers reaching a certain level of maturity in terms of features, stability and performance.

The other fact is that most popular websites are much better designed now and cater to different browsers well. This means that users can do most common tasks on websites competently. For the general non-technical user, they would only be inclined to switch to a different browser if they cannot access a particular website on one browser. Most commercial sites cannot afford to behave that way in today’s competitive environment.

It is illuminating to observe the differences between how a technical person (like programmer or web designer) uses a browser and how a non-technical user does it. The non-technical person typically use very few features in a browser — mostly the address bar, the Back button, clicking links, filling forms and printing screens. The technical person, in contrast, configures browser options, installs toolbars and ad blockers, etc. — things that I have never (yes, never) seen a casual user doing by themselves.

The larger point in this discussion is that interesting technological arguments (like which browser is better) are becoming more irrelevant each day. Technology is really there to help people do what they want. The best technology is invisible — people use it and move on. As various technologies — operating systems, browsers, etc. — become more mature and do most of what people want, users rarely waste time on the technical specifications.

Computers (desktops and laptops) are a good example. Most new computers (including PCs and Mac’s) have features and performance that overshoot the needs of most users other than developers and gamers. Therefore, non-technical considerations (price, brand name, etc.) are increasingly becoming more of a factor.

Going back to the original topic, it is probably time to bury the debate on the browser wars. The end users already have.

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