Web Browser Diversity

As I give talks, I continue to find, to my continued surprise, that many people don’t know that there is any alternative to Internet Explorer (IE). The other day a webmaster of long acquaintance said something to the effect of:

Sure, I tailor my web pages for IE. What else would anybody use? And why would they?

(I usually attribute quotations or even paraphrases, but let’s let that one remain nameless.)

Why? Because IE draws security exploits like honey draws flies. Because it has deep design flaws. Because it is less capable than all the other major browsers. Because having a single browser used by 90% of desktop users is inherently unsafe, no matter what the browser is, because it is a monoculture, which means that there is a possibility that an exploit could attack a large proportion of all desktop machines all at the same time. This isn’t an academic concern, either, since there have been numerous IE exploits, including some, such as scob, for which there was no patch.

What else would they use?

There are quite a few choices readily available right off the net.

  • Firefox, which was developed by a former IE user who got tired of having to clean his system every few days of spyware and viruses introduced via IE.
  • Opera, a nice lightweight (in terms of code size, not functionality) browser.
  • Netscape 8, which according to this c|net article, can emulate either Firefox or IE, without IE’s main security flaws.
  • Deepnet Explorer, which the same article says is built on the IE codebase but cleaned up.
  • Safari, which comes with the Macintosh OSX operating system.

All of these browsers have tabbed browsing and RSS feeds, neither of which does IE yet have.

Personally, I don’t see emulating IE (as Deepnet Explorer and Netscape 8 can do) as a feature, because it lets webmaster be lazy and code only for IE, thus leaving excuses for users to use only IE.

Also, I favor browsers that work on multiple operating systems, so that you can keep a familiar browser even if you choose to change operating systems. So I’d recommend Firefox or Opera for that reason. They’re also the two browsers I use.