My History with Browsers Part 1: A History Lesson of Sorts

At first I used Internet Explorer because we had a free trial of MSN.  Then we switched to MCI, who used Netscape (although you could also use IE) and I mostly used Netscape.  I think this was around Netscape 4 or 5.  I really liked Netscape A LOT and used it almost to the exclusivity of Internet Explorer.  Of course, those were the exciting days when every few months Netscape and Internet Explorer would release a new version.  As I’ve commented in previous posts, whether or not Firefox ever gains a dominant share (and the same with Linux vs Windows), its mere presence will necessitate innovation from Microsoft.  You may have noticed that IE stayed at version 6 for a very long time until Firefox started getting really popular.  But I digress.  Netscape had all the best plugins and I thought it was the ultimate in the Web experiences.  I coded all of my websites with Netscape in mind. 

I heard about Opera and checked it out, but it was racked with annoying ads if you didn’t get the pay version.  I couldn’t understand why anyone would buy a browser when MS and Netscape gave theirs away free.  Sure, Netscape had a version you could pay for, but I never did understand what that gave you.  Tech support?  Who the heck needs tech support on a web browser?  (I felt the same way about Realplayer)  If Opera had tabs at the time, I didn’t notice.  I uninstalled it pretty much the next day.

Then in High School I became a Microsoft Fanboy at some time.  I remember getting mad that AOL kept locking MS Messenger out of its client.  After all, in my experience, MS Messenger was the first client I could use to access both Buddy lists and I didn’t see a point in having two programs open at once – back in the days when we pined for 128 MB of RAM!  So I started using Internet Explorer.  So as Netscape fell to the wayside, I didn’t even notice that more and more websites were become discriminatory towards non-IE browsers.

I did temporarily go back to Netscape 7 (or 8?  was there an 8?) when they integrated with AIM (must have been around the time that AOL bought the company).  I thought it was pretty neat.  However, by that time I had moved onto using Trillian and using Netscape for AIM while using Trillian for Yahoo and MSN seemed to be a step backwards and I only used Netscape for a month at max.

Then one day I went to the computer labs in the engineering library at Cornell.  This must have been either Junior Year or Senior Year because prior to then I had never really used the school library resources.  But Junior year I moved off campus so I had an incentive to use the labs in the library.  At the time it was called Phoenix and was version 0.7 or 0.8 – something like that.  But I immediately fell in love!  (Or relatively immediately – after playing with it for a few consecutive days)  Once I discovered tabs I could never go back to IE for this opening a new instance of the browser for every link was just too annoying.  Not only that, but in those days Firefox was lightning fast!  (Something I hope they return to in the near future)

I immediately started using Firefox and got my then-girlfriend (now wife) to start using it.  I forget if she was sold on tabbed browsing or when I later found out that it was much more secure than IE.  I tend to think it’s the latter because she’s always gone for practicality over glitz.  Then we started to see the prejudices against non-IE browsers.  For example, I couldn’t pay my Verizon bill online.  I called up and complained and they said they were working on it.  Same with a bank or two.  It still continues to this day one some DRM (digital restrictions management) heavy sites such as Movielink and Netflix for movie downloads.  Well, those websites simply stopped getting my patronage.  (Well, I stopped renting from Movielink so they lost money on their policies.  Netflix – I use for renting physical discs).

Recently, after having been with the Gospel of Firefox for about three to five years, I’ve started to branch out a bit and check out other browsers to see what they have to offer.  On Linux I’ve switched to Epiphany for a few reasons. 

1) It integrates better with Gnome
2) They implemented what Firefox will call places in Firefox 3 a long time ago, and
3) It has the same Gecko rendering engine, but uses up far fewer resources than Firefox.  I’ve been using it for maybe 6 months now and I prefer it over Firefox on Linux

In KDE I’ve used Konqueror which uses the KHTML backend, which Apple took for Safari and has contributed back to the community as Webkit.  It renders pages much more crisply than Gecko-based browsers and was the first or second backend to pass the Acid 2 test.  I like it a lot although it seems to have taken the approach that they will not kludge up the codebase by supporting deprecated standards.  I say that because it seems to render some pages incorrectly that I’ve coded with my old HTML books that date back to the early to mid 1990s.

All of that has caused me to also check out other browsers on Windows.  For instance, as I mentioned a few months ago, I moved my primary browsing from Firefox over to Flock, which is also based on Firefox/Gecko.  The flickr and Facebook integration as well as a few other things (auto-bookmark to delicious) have had me very happy using this browser.  However, Flock isn’t perfect.  For one thing, its performance makes Firefox look like it flies.  (And everyone knows that Firefox has become a huge resource hog)

So I decided to continue the search for the perfect browser.  Just as IE didn’t cut it and forced me to find web browsing bliss in Firefox, perhaps there’s more out there worth checking out.  So recently I decided to check out Opera again.  It’ll be interesting for me to look at since it’ll be the first time since I used Netscape Communicator/Navigator that I’ll have one program with Web browser, email, IRC, etc.  I never did use most of those features with Netscape, my ISP always had its own email program.  So will it be too slow or too much bloat?  I hear some people still like Mozilla Suite/Seamonkey, but I suspect they’re in the minority.  If it turns out that I do like Opera, it may cause a lot of people to switch.  I can directly point to my switching to Firefox as responsible for at least six to eight people switching.  Stay tuned for part 2!

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Author: Eric Mesa

To find out a little more about me, see About Me

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