Microsoft’s end-of-life announcement for Internet Explorer gives us Technical HQ the perfect opportunity to review some of the most common web browsers today, with a particular focus on each application’s suitability for everyday use in a business environment.
Of course, the reality is that most people use a particular browser all day for work and then continue on the same platform for personal use. Therefore, while there are elements of each browser that may make it suitable for the workplace, it is important to consider all aspects of browser usage, including platform compatibility and privacy issues. .
For the sake of brevity, we only look at the four most common browsers and ignore some of the more esoteric spins over common web engines (as well as the one or two independent platforms) – in particular, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome , Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari. Strictly speaking, at the time of writing, Internet Explorer is slightly more mainstream than its successor, Edge, but we’re ignoring IE for obvious reasons.
Internet Explorer on the verge of death? NOT SO FAST. pic.twitter.com/VG6w12LeWp
— Mauricio Linhares (@mauriciojr) May 20, 2021
Of the ones we cover, Edge and Chrome share a core (based on Chromium on top of the Blink web engine), Safari is built on WebKit (like all iOS-based browsers), and Firefox is built on the older engine for See you, Gecko.
- It is the most popular browser; 99.99% of web assets are working fine. In fact, some modern websites are now optimized for Google Chrome to the exclusion of others, and will try to block users from browsing if they land on these sites using an “unsupported browser”.
- Fits nicely into a G Suite-based workflow (G Suite is now called Google Workspace, btw).
- A wide range of extensions are available. The Chrome Web Store offers over 100,000 extensions and themes for this most popular browser.
- Syncs well with Chrome installed on other platforms such as mobile. Synchronization is done via a Google account.
Today I learned that in Chrome browser you can add speaker notes in Google Slides using text-to-speech under Tools.
Hot Tip fellow teachers/trainer friends. pic.twitter.com/tyZe2zhtJr
— Jeff Hillyard (he/him)😷 (@jphillyyard) May 19, 2021
- Now based on Chromium/Blink. Edge is now pretty much the same as Chrome, but with a few cosmetic differences. Therefore, most sites display well.
- Most Chrome extensions and add-ons work the same as they do in Chrome.
- Fits seamlessly into a Microsoft-based workflow. SharePoint and O365 integrations are smooth (although you need verifiable licenses for some features).
- Slightly lower memory consumption than Chrome and slightly “faster” performance.
- Search engine. Preferences may, under certain circumstances, be overridden for end users, with the browser resetting to use Bing without warning.
- Privacy issues. Rather than Google reclaiming metrics for resale or use, these now fall under Microsoft’s purview.
- Extensions or add-ons for most needs are available. Firefox is still a mainstream (but fair) browser, so there are “versions” of Firefox extensions in the majority of common cases.
- By far the most privacy-friendly browser. The developers have done everything possible to ensure that privacy features are built into the browser (see container tabs, for example).
- Synchronization is good. This installation is done through a Mozilla account and smoothly syncs the mobile and desktop versions.
- Memory usage. Probably the worst resource among the few percent options, so largely unsuitable for older hardware.
- Compatibility. User experience can suffer as web design increasingly tends to focus solely on Chrome compatibility. A small number of sites will not display correctly or may behave strangely; whether this is the fault of Firefox or the individual web designer is debatable.
- Memory usage is very low. The browser is light, responsive and works well under all circumstances.
- Decent privacy. This is less of a concern than with Chrome and Edge, as Apple’s business model is currently focused on hardware rather than data monetization.
- Only works on Mac OS and iOS.
- Extensions and complements. Only a small range of add-ons can be added to Safari through the App Store, some of which are paid for or come with in-app purchase options for full functionality.
Web browsers can be a very personal matter, but the choice is often determined by existing workflows and the rest of the computing stack. As is the case with any software deployment, the eventual choice(s) must be made after testing – internal resources accessible by the browser from various locations, external resources used on a day-to-day basis (if they appear and function properly), and finally data security and confidentiality.
For organizations integrated into the Microsoft ecosystem, the browser of choice is Edge. It integrates well with the rest of Microsoft’s product line (including Bing, for better or worse) and is built on a web engine that will render and run just about any web asset.
If your workflows revolve around Google Workspace (Drive, Sheets, Docs, Hangouts, etc.), you’ll probably want to use Chrome. The browser is so ubiquitous that some services just won’t work reliably on anything else. If privacy is an issue, you can try Brave Browser, which is basically Chrome, but with data deletion.
If you are an Apple store, Safari is the de facto choice, especially inside Apple’s walled garden. However, all the browsers mentioned above work great on Mac OS and iOS, so Apple aficionados have the best choice, but not when it comes to extensions.
For those concerned with data privacy, the obvious choice is Firefox. If privacy is important to you but you struggle with site compatibility, there are Brave (see above), Vivaldi and Opera options, to name a few. These combine the fundamentals of Chromium with a more proactive approach to data security.
With the end of IE and Microsoft’s adoption of Blink and Chromium as the basis of Edge, the web ecosystem has shrunk in variety. However, Google’s continued dominance is not assured: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the most common browser just a few years ago. It may be an all too often repeated cliché, but in technology things can change quickly.