Microsoft’s announcement that it is end-of-life-ing Internet Explorer gives us at Tech HQ the perfect opportunity to look at some of the more common web browsers today, with a particular focus on each application’s suitability for everyday use in business settings.
Of course, the reality is that most people use a particular browser all day in the context of work and then continue on the same platform for personal use. Therefore, while some elements of each browser might make it suitable for the workplace, considering all aspects of browser use, including platform compatibility and privacy concerns, is important.
For the purposes of brevity, we are looking at only the four most common browsers and ignoring some of the more esoteric spins on top of the common web engines (and the one or two independent platforms as well) — specifically, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari. Strictly speaking, at the time of writing, Internet Explorer was slightly more common than its successor, Edge, but we’re ignoring IE for obvious reasons.
Internet explorer about to die? NOT SO FAST. pic.twitter.com/VG6w12LeWp
— Maurício Linhares (@mauriciojr) May 20, 2021
Of those we cover, Edge and Chrome share a core (Chromium-based on top of the Blink web engine), Safari is built on WebKit (as are all iOS-based browsers), and Firefox is constructed on the longest-lived engine to date, Gecko.
- It’s the most popular browser; 99.99% of web assets work well. In fact, some modern websites are now optimized for Google Chrome to the exclusion of others, and will try and stop users from browsing if they land on those sites using an “unsupported browser.”
- Integrates perfectly in a G Suite-based workflow (G Suite is now called Google Workspace, btw).
- A huge range of Extensions is available. The Chrome Web Store has over 100,000 Extensions and Themes for this most popular browser.
- Synchronizes well with Chrome installed on other platforms such as mobile. Synchronization is via a Google account.
Today I learned that in the Chrome Browser you can add Speakers Notes in Google Slides using speech to text under Tools.
Hot tip fellow teacher/trainer friends. pic.twitter.com/tyZe2zhtJr
— Jeff Hillyard (he/him)? (@jphillyard) May 19, 2021
- Now based on Chromium/Blink. Edge is now pretty much identical to Chrome, albeit with a few cosmetic differences. Therefore, most sites render nicely.
- Most Chrome Extensions and add-ons work just the same as in Chrome.
- Integrates perfectly in a Microsoft-based workflow. SharePoint and O365 integrations are smooth (although you need verifiable licenses for some functionality).
- Memory consumption slightly less than Chrome’s, and performance slightly more “snappy.”
- Search engine. Preferences can, in some circumstances, be over-ruled for end-users, with the browser resetting to use Bing without warning.
- Privacy concerns. Rather than Google scooping up metrics for resale or use, these are now Microsoft’s purview.
- Extensions, or Add-Ons for most requirements are available. Firefox remains a mainstream browser (but only just), so there are Firefox “versions” of extensions in the majority of common cases.
- By far the most privacy-protecting browser. The developers have gone out of their way to ensure privacy features are baked into the browser (see Container tabs, for example).
- Synchronization is good. This facility is via a Mozilla account and syncs mobile and desktop versions smoothly.
- Memory usage. Probably the worst resource hog of the options by a few percent, so largely unsuitable for old hardware.
- Compatibility. User experience can suffer as web design today has an increasing tendency to focus solely on Chrome compatibility. A small number of sites out there won’t render correctly or might behave oddly; whether that is Firefox’s or the individual web designer’s fault is debatable.
- Memory use is very low. The browser is lightweight, responsive, and runs well in all circumstances.
- Decent privacy. This is less of a concern than with Chrome and Edge, as Apple’s business model is hardware-centric, rather than data-monetizing, at present.
- Only runs on Mac OS and iOS.
- Extensions and add-ons. Only a small range of additions can be added to Safari via 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 affair, but the choice is often determined by existing workflows and the rest of the IT stack. As is the case with any software deployment, the eventual choice(s) should be made after testing – of internal assets accessed by the browser from various locations, of external resources in everyday use (if they render and function correctly), and finally of security and data privacy.
For organizations embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem, the choice browser is Edge. It integrates well with the rest of the Microsoft product range (including Bing, be that for good or bad) and is built on a web engine that will render and run pretty much all web assets.
If your workflows revolve around Google Workspace (Drive, Sheets, Docs, Hangouts, etc.), you will probably want to use Chrome. The browser is so ubiquitous, some services simply won’t run reliably on anything else. If privacy is a concern, you might try Brave Browser, which is essentailly Chrome, but with the data-slurping removed.
If you’re an Apple shop, Safari is the de facto choice, especially inside the Apple walled garden. However, all the browsers mentioned above work perfectly happily in Mac OS and iOS, so Apple aficionados have the best choice, although not when it comes down to extensions.
For those concerned with data privacy, the clear choice is Firefox. If privacy matters to you yet are struggling with site compatibility, there are the options of Brave (see above), Vivaldi, and Opera — to name a few. These combine Chromium underpinnings with a more proactive data security approach.
With the end of IE, and Microsoft’s adoption of Blink and Chromium as the basis of Edge, the web ecosystem has contracted in variety. However, Google’s continued dominance is not assured: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the most common browser just a few years ago. A too-often repeated cliché it may be, but in technology, things can change quickly.