RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Browser Wars Continue

I got a notice recently from Mozilla FireFox that Version 26 was available for download. Google's Chrome is up to Version 31.0.1650.63. I can't get Internet Explorer on my Macs so I don't keep up with that browser quite as much as the others, but the latest version is Internet Explorer 10. I also have Safari on my computers and the latest is Version 7.0.1 (9537.73.11). I also check out Opera from time to time, especially when I think I have a browser issue. The latest Opera version is 18.0.1284.68.

The latest statistics on browser use, depending on which statistics you believe, show that Chrome is the most used followed by Firefox and then Internet Explorer. Safari and Opera have never had a significant percentage of usage. Some compilations show Internet Explorer slightly ahead of Firefox. To see an analysis of the various methods of compiling statistics go to Wikipedia "Usage share of web browsers."

One of the things I do from time to time in my classes is explain the difference between a browser, a search engine and the other computer functions. For example, Chrome refers to a browser but it also refers to an operating system. It is always a little surprising to me to see the class reaction and the questions that arise. There are a significant number of people using computers who are unaware of the distinction between the different products. When I am asked to work on someone's computer, I frequently find that they are using the default browser set to the default startup page. A significant number of users are entirely unaware of the fact that they can customize the browser or even change browsers from the one that came with their computer.

One of the first suspected problems when a website does not operate properly is a browser error. I keep copies of different browsers available so that I can switch easily from one to the other and quickly determine whether or not any error comes from a specific browser's inability to display a website. For this reason, I seldom make recommendations about which browser to use.

From time to time, I find websites that produce an error message when I use a specific browser. Usually, the error message indicates that some version of Internet Explorer is required to view the website. The problem that this creates depends on the operating system you happen to be using. On my Windows-based computer I am using Windows 8.1 and Internet Explorer 10. Because of the operating system it is inconvenient to try to use an earlier browser. One program that I use frequently is the Boy Scouts of America Online Advancement Program. This program is incompatible with any browser version other than Internet Explorer 9 and older. I'm not sure how the Boy Scouts of America think they can operate with older browsers.

I have noticed some browser errors when working with online genealogy programs. If these errors are significant, I try switching from browser to browser to give me a perspective as to whether or not any of the anomalies I am viewing originate with the browser.

During the past couple of years it has been interesting to watch the introduction of the Chrome browser and its dramatic increase in market share. It is interesting that both Firefox and Chrome when installed have a Google search as the default. This of course, is not the case with Internet Explorer. I could speculate that the decline of Internet Explorer is related to this issue.

When dealing with genealogists, I am extremely conservative in suggesting any changes be made to the settings of their computers. I spend a considerable amount of time trying to help patrons and friends working on genealogy to understand their computer's basic operating system, any changes from what they already have usually turn out to be a disaster.

For my own part, I have no browser loyalty whatsoever. If I perceive an advantage of one browser over another I will change instantly. Because browsers, with computer operating systems preinstalled the percentage of usage of any one browser somewhat meaningless. This is especially true when you add in the fact as I mentioned above, of the conservative nature of the computer user.

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