The search for the best browser

What is the best browser? Since the birth of World Wide Web, this question has been the subject of debate for internet users the world over. In the 1990s, a fiercely competitive battle broke out between the companies Microsoft and Netscape over their respective products. Microsoft eventually won the first ‘browser war’ in 1998. For many years following this, Microsoft continued to monopolize the browser market, until Mozilla Firefox and later Google Chrome eventually overshadowed the Microsoft browser. But the question remains: do user numbers really decide which is the best browser?

What is a browser?

A web browser, shortened to simply browser, is a form of software that’s used to call up websites or general documents and data, like images or PDF documents, and display them in a user-friendly format. Originally, the term ‘to browse’ meant to move backwards and forwards in text using navigation elements. Along with the display of HTML, XHTML, or HTML5 pages, modern internet browsers enable integrated graphics and images as well as elements that are programmed in JavaScript. Additional functions include playback of multimedia content like music or videos, execution of web-based software, and download wizards. Modern browsers are also equipped with various safety functions that they can use to recognize untrustworthy websites. Extra features, like download management, can be added through plugins.

Despite all this, the main role of a browser is still to display content that is requested in the address bar. Tabbed browsing is now supported as standard as well, meaning several websites can be open at the same time. And thanks to the forward and back buttons, users can navigate easily between previously displayed pages. Lastly, when the browser is first opened, the user is taken to a homepage - typically the search engine page favored by browser’s producer.

The top browsers

The first web browser, known as WorldWideWeb (later Nexus), was developed by the creator of HTML, Tim Berners-Lee, in 1989. Just two years later, he published this pioneering browser in combination with the lite Line Mode Browser. This could only display text, but graphics could be opened via the WorldWideWeb with a simple click. In 1993, NCSA Mosaic appeared - the first web browser with a graphical user interface. A year later, the Netscape Navigator revolutionized the market forever.

The browser war with Microsoft and their Internet Explorer then followed. After a long period of market domination, Microsoft’s global spread left it increasingly targeted by cyber criminals. Reports of vulnerabilities and the emergence of Mozilla Firefox in 2004 put a swift end to Internet Explorer’s dominance. The final nail in the coffin for Internet Explorer was the Google’s entry into the market in 2008 with their browser, Chrome.). In just a few years, Chrome was able to make it to the top of the browser market, which you can see from the infographic below on the market shares.

Click here to download the infographic about the top browsers worldwide.

Microsoft Internet Explorer & Edge

Since Windows 95, Internet Explorer (IE) has been an integral part of all Microsoft operating systems and was also temporarily compatible with Mac OS as well as Unix derivatives, like Solaris. It was characterized by its close connection to the operating system, particularly when it came to displaying HTML content in other programs – Internet Explorer was the default technology used here, and all IE updates were controlled via the general Windows update. As a result of increasing safety deficiencies and the general reputation of being an outdated browser, development was stopped and an official successor, Microsoft Edge, was published along with the release of Windows 10. Edge’s features include the ability to use annotation tools on websites and to hide unwanted elements in its reading mode. It supports the Microsoft language assistant, Cortana.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla’s free web browser was first released in 2002 under the name Phoenix. This was followed by Mozilla Firebird, until 2004 saw the release of the first Firefox version. Alongside solid security standards, the great advantages of this Netscape successor are its huge range of simple extensions as well as its compatibility with numerous operating systems, like Windows, Linux, and OS X. Firefox Mobile is also available as an app for Android and iOS devices. Thanks to the cross-platform synchronization function, settings and favorites can be carried across all devices. The browser supports 85 languages and is particularly popular across Europe. The desktop version can be downloaded from the official Mozilla Homepage. Firefox Mobile can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.

Google Chrome

In 2008, Google published its very own web browser Chrome, setting new functionality standards in the process. While the plugin system was taken from Firefox, the search engine giant has come up with several innovations that have helped Chrome to quickly become a global player. Chrome has very fast loading times and has perfected its cross-browser synchronization. Not only can users sync their settings and favorites between devices, they can also sync plugins and stored passwords. Chrome is also the first browser to start each tab as a new, independent process, making it very unlikely for the software to experience a crash. Chrome is available for Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS.

Safari, Opera and UC Browser

Besides the three best-known players, there are many other browsers. Three particularly noteworthy variants are Safari, Opera, and UC Browser.

Safari is Apple’s web browser and has been used as the standard browser for Mac PCs since Mac OS X Panther. It is also included in the software package of portable Apple devices with iOS.

Opera has been in operation since 1996 and is particularly popular in Africa. With over 100 million installations worldwide, Opera Mini is one of the most popular browsers for mobile devices. Opera is also the only browser for the current Nintendo games consoles.

Making its first appearance in 2004, freeware UC Browser relies on Cloud acceleration and data compression technologies. For these reasons and more, it’s the most popular browser for mobile devices in China and India. Over 500 million people worldwide use this web browser, which is compatible with Android, iOS, Windows, and more.

So what is the best browser?

Determining the best browser is mainly a question of operating systems and personal taste. Safari is exclusively available for Apple devices; it’s the default option on these and is highly valued by Apple users. The days of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are numbered, and whether it’s successor Edge will be accepted by Windows users remains to be seen. Edge’s technical advancements are certainly in the same league as market leaders Firefox and Chrome, but it’s currently only operational on Windows 10. Despite impressive numbers on all performance tests, Opera is often forgotten compared to better-known browser programs.

Individual preference is also the key when it comes to choosing the best browser for mobile devices: Opera Mini, UC Browser, and Dolphin Browser (Android only) are all first rate, but are by no means necessary alternatives to the standard browsers offered by Android and iOS. There are subtle differences between each browser, but none are head and shoulders above the competition in every department. At the end of the day, the best browser for you is the one whose browsing experience best fits your personal preferences.

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