I remember, back in the day, when the browser wars had reached a fit of pique such that no one could believe. A big part of this was driven by profit and how so many websites seemed hellbent on focusing on one browser or another. Some sites functioned only with Internet Explorer and others set their sights on Netscape Navigator (remember those days?).
Then, of course, there was the issue of Internet Explorer itself, which was a terrible product housing a never-ending collection of insecure code and bugs that caused countless issues. This was all exacerbated when Netscape fell off the face of the planet and was replaced by Firefox. At first, the new open-source browser looked as though it would send IE packing. It was a solid entry in the browser space and people loved it.
History tells a much different story.
Firefox would ride a rollercoaster that saw it peaking and dipping between bloat, feature creep, and bugs. It would vacillate between a bare-bones browser and way too many features. That ride continued until the developers realized the only way they could remain relevant was to focus on what Firefox did best — render websites.
Along the way, more and more browsers popped up. Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, Tor, Safari, Brave, Chromium, and Edge (to name a few). We all know the problems facing Chrome (hello, security!) and Safari has a never-ending problem with resources (even on a MacBook Pro with 32 GB of RAM any given website can cause Safari to throw the resources error.
To date, I’ve tried almost every web browser to have come to market (even text-based ones like Alpine and Lynx) and I’ve yet to experience the “ideal” browser.
Not even close.
Sure, I have my favorite browsers. Most often, I prefer Firefox over them all, but Firefox can be problematic. I use Firefox on Pop!_OS, running on a System76 Thelio with 32 Gb of RAM and if Firefox lands on the wrong page it will gobble up so much system resources the entire desktop comes to a crawl.
And Chrome? Don’t get me started on the lack of security involved with Google’s browser.
Opera is always next in line after Firefox. When the open-source browser starts having fits, I close it and turn to Opera. One thing I really love about that browser is the Workspaces feature (which makes tab management a thing of beauty).
But Opera isn’t perfect either. On top of this, Opera is a proprietary browser, which rubs many an open-source enthusiast the wrong way.
After years of dealing with one issue or another, I’ve concluded that there is no ideal web browser nor will there ever be.
And that’s a shame.
Every web browser I use (Firefox, Opera, and Safari) has its strong points:
- Firefox is fast and renders sites to near perfection. It’s also secure and has plenty of third-party extensions I depend on.
- Opera doesn’t get bogged down like Firefox does and has the best-in-class tab management feature. Opera also works better with some of the CMS tools I have to deal with (especially on the content formatting front).
- Safari doesn’t drain the battery on my MacBook Pro as does both Firefox and Opera.
You might think I’d be able to stick with just one of those browsers but you’d be very wrong. On a daily basis, I have to jump from browser to browser to get things done. One minute I’m working with Firefox and the next Opera. I hop on my laptop and it’s Safari to the rescue.
That makes for a rather confusing (and sometimes frustrating) day.
I’d much rather work with a single browser. And I’d love for that browser to be Firefox, but the truth of the matter is…I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I know the reality of the situation and there is not (nor will ever be) one browser to rule them all.
Sure, you could point to market share and say that Chrome is the queen of browsers. However, a big part of Chrome’s current 65.52% market share is Android’s global usage (which runs in the mid-70 percentile month-to-month). And yes, there are millions upon millions of users who only work with a single browser (regardless of how frustrating it can be). But anyone who’s spent enough time with technology understands that there will never be a winner in the browser war. And if you think the end-user will ever be the winner… think again and again and again.
The sad truth is that we’re at the mercy of web browsers and website developers. And no matter how well they do their jobs, no “ideal” will ever emerge from the heaping pile of options. To my dying day, I am certain I will have to continue doing the browser shuffle and my only recourse is to keep every web browser I use as tidy as possible. That means clearing caches, restarting, and keeping the tabs to a workable minimum.
I don’t know about you, but the struggle of being a web browser user can certainly be frustrating. However, as long as there are options, we can at least continue browser hopping to ensure we can be productive, entertained, and informed.
But maybe, just maybe, someday we’ll see a holy grail of web browsers appear on the market that will finally render this concern moot. Until then, I’ll keep switching between Firefox, Opera, and Safari.
What can you do?
The first thing is not to panic. It’s not like your default browser is going to explode in your face. But even if you go years without seeing a problem, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can and should do. To that end, here’s my best advice regarding browsers:
- Keep more than one browser installed, just in case. I currently have seven browsers installed. Part of that is because I write about technology. The other reason is when something goes wrong with one browser, I always have another to use (and troubleshooting can wait). There are also times when I’ll use one browser for one task and another for a different task. For example, I’ll use Firefox when security is key and Opera when I know I’ll be working with numerous tabs.
- Keep your cache and history clean. This is one of those things everyone should do regularly. Your web browser keeps a cache of many things, some of which are just so pages will load faster. However, those caches add up and when they start to get overly large, it’ll slow the browser down. On top of that, those caches contain cookies and you might not want them hanging around for too long (for security purposes).
- Don’t save passwords! Never, ever, ever allow your browser to save your passwords. That’s placing a target on your back. Instead, use a password manager and be done with it.
- Switch to Firefox. Of all the browsers I use, Firefox is not only the most reliable, but it’s also more secure and easier to clear the history (Menu > History > Clear Recent History).
You are not locked into one browser. I highly recommend everyone try out different takes on the tool. You’ll most likely find you enjoy different features from different browsers. As you sample the browser wares, don’t think you must be locked into one solution. In fact, multiple solutions for this issue might be the best solution of all. In the end, however, it’s on you to ensure you’re using your web browser of choice smartly. Do that and you shouldn’t have (many) problems.
Jack Wallen: Here’s how to…