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Know Your Browsers - A Quick Guide to the Web's Big Five

Geoff Roy - Friday, January 16, 2015

Once upon a time, back in the early days of the internet, when we spoke about web or internet browsers for a business environment, we were basically talking about Internet Explorer.

Well, those days are gone.

Of course, IE is still very much with us and still used as the web browser of choice of a vast number of individuals and organisations. However, nowadays our options are considerably wider when we come to decide the ways in which we access the internet.

So, with that in mind, we’ve put together a short guide to the main browsers you’re likely to choose when setting up your computer system at home or at work.

Internet Explorer (IE)

IE is the default internet browser for the Microsoft Windows system and one of the most recognisable of all online brands. Indeed, go back to the first few years of the century and you would have been hard pressed to find an office IT network that DIDN’T run with IE, such was its overwhelming market share; peaking at around 95% in the 2002-03 period.

That figure has significantly eroded in the intervening years, with recent figures suggesting that by the end of 2014 IE use was down to around 22%.*

IE wasn’t the first web browser (that honour falls to the Sir Tim Berners-Lee created WorldWideWeb in 1990) but it was the first browser to truly target the mass consumer marketplace in the late 90s.

The browser has evolved markedly from those early days, largely in response to some of the sleeker competitors which have come along. Early IE was very ‘boxy’, with its grey frame, address bar and toolbar heavy look. By contrast, today’s version is a much cleaner, minimalist style with the option of opening new pages on separate tabs.

Mozilla Firefox

Set-up in 1998 Mozilla’s goals were to provide more choice for internet users in how they browsed the web with the underlying aim of ensuring that this new phenomenon was open and available to all. The Firefox browser was launched in 2004 to a fare degree of publicity, a full-page spread in the New York Times, no less. A million people downloaded the browser in the first four days.

It was the first consumer browser to be available to both Windows and Mac users and was quick to integrate different search options into its toolbar; from Google to Ebay. In the spirit of trying to nab traditional IE users it also developed a favourites bar which allowed you to import your favourite sites directly across from IE.

Firefox has grown steadily in the following years, its users tending to be loyal to the brand. As of the end of 2014 its use was comparable to IE and the third largest browser around.

Google Chrome

Make no bones about it; these days, Google is numero uno when it comes to online browsing. The overwhelmingly dominant search engine launched its own web browser back in 2008 with the clearly defined aim of overtaking IE as the preferred choice of browser for most web users.

Within four years, it had attained its goal and, as of 2014, its dominance remains.

Chrome altered the way people used their browsers. Much like the search engine, the browser dispensed with clutter, leaving a minimal and integrating its address bar and search bar so that people could get straight into that which they were looking for; making the browser that much quicker and responsive. These days, IE, Firefox and the other browsers around tend towards a similar model.

As the browser has developed it has become integrated into, and the focal point of, the various apps that Google offers to allow swift access to everything from email, social media and even photo editing.

Safari

Developed by Apple and the standard browser for the OS and iOS systems Safari has worked its way into the awareness of the wide world as it became the way to access the world wide web via our mobiles with the launch of the iPhone (and subsequently iPad) in 2007.

In fact, Safari has been the default browser for Apple since 2003, replacing the Panther browser on its Mac computers. The browser has generally had a different look to it in comparison to its rivals, allowing it to fit into the overall aesthetic of Apple's software. With Apple's loyal band of supporters, Safari has maintained a steady share of the market in the past decade although it is as a mobile browser that it has really come to popular prominence.

Opera

The 5th of the 'Bigger' web browsers in popular usage, albeit lagging these days someway behind the others, is Opera.

As a browser it's been available for public use since the turn of the century with early versions funded through the use of prominent advertising banners on its home page.

Whilst it may not have the same level of global usage as its rivals Opera (although their own numbers of over 300 million users is still a significant number) the browser's development has seen it have an impact on the overall evolution of how we use the internet. Prominent in the development of security features such as erasing browsing history on exit (useful for users of public computers) Opera has also, in recent years, taken to the more minimalist clean look favoured by other browsers, allowing for clarity on screen and a fast download speed.

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