I’ve been using various web browsers for quite some time, and I’ve grown on a select three for independent reasons. I love Chrome because it’s just so clean and snappy, while packing a great extension gallery and user interface. I love Firefox because of it’s open-ness, how easy it is to develop for it, and how customizable it is. I love Opera because it’s a great web browser, IRC client, and mail client. Or should I say was?
Opera, Firefox, and even Chrome are putting more and more focus on “The web is everything.” There is even an entire OS built by Google around their Chrome browser. This is not a bad thing, but it leaves users like me in the dark. I feel that my desktop should enhance the online experience, not just clone it. Firefox has web apps. Chrome has web apps. Opera’s going with the route of web apps next. If I want an app on my computer, I would much rather a dedicated app that I can use 24/7/365 without any dependency on the Internet.
Onto my next point, the fact that each web browser is becoming the same. I loved Opera 12, it did its job amazingly well. Well, Opera 15 happened. This is a blessing shrouded in dread. Many dedicated Opera fans were alienated by this release because now all of the sudden, it’s using Chromium 28 as a base and there are no more integrated IRC and Email clients. Why is this a blessing shrouded in dread? Convergence of the web. Webkit, in my opinion, is one of the best rendering engines out there. If all browsers used Webkit, the end user would never have the issue of “This website works best in IE 8” or “Get Chrome and use a modern browser”. All browsers would have their own set of features, while still maintaining compatibility between them. No need for vendor prefixes in CSS, no need for so much wasted work on multiple projects, but rather, all the work driven towards one great rendering engine. This is slowly happening, and I personally think it’s a good thing.
And here are the downsides: Many browsers are adopting this “Chrome”-esque look and feel, while alienating users who loved their old look. Here are some screenshots for examples.
What’s the difference, you ask? Well, not much. Most popular extensions are available for all three browsers (FlashBlock, Adblock, NoScript, Stylish, Web of Trust, others), and each are about the same when it comes to rendering of websites. If this idea of web apps is so important, why are we not converging on one rendering engine to enable complete and total compatibility with all web apps? Firefox has the Firefox Marketplace, Chrome has the Chrome Web Store, and Opera will probably get Chrome Web Store support any time now as it’s based off Chromium.
At this point, there should just be one webkit browser simply named “Web Browser” which adds the best of all three of these browsers. They’re all headed the same direction anyways. Five years ago, we had the opposite problem: too many user agents. With so many browsers and user agents and rendering engines out there, compatibility was a pain. Nowadays, this is not a problem at all, for the most part (looking at you, Internet Explorer).
Is this a good thing? Bad thing? Both? We’ll find out as the web continues to converge into one product.