Browsers, once rather simple apps relegated to being dumb content providers have evolved into mayor players in terms of how you experience the web overall.
From Microsoft’s dodgy behaviors when it tried to identify itself as another browser altogether to Mozilla’s war cry of Open Source and tinker-with-it policy, the browser landscape has become a tight slit throat arena of innovate or die companies that stand on the pride of having you use their tools to get on the all encompassing web.
The household names Firefox and Internet Explorer have kept taunting each other for some time now, surpassing (and to an extent, “adopting from”) one another regularly in terms of innovative uses, performance and looks.
While the other not so well known names stayed behind in terms of adoption, one has found a place to call its own; Opera Mini has all but exploded in terms of online access from mobile devices, in part due to the advent of el-cheapo-no-name cell phones running Nokia knockoff java enabled operating systems.
Today all of them are looking one way to the future and besides the niche niceties each sports to differentiate itself, their main call is for early adoption of HTML5, so much so that each at a given time has posted its test results on compliance from w3consortium and claim bragging rights over it.
Chrome, the browser from Google, shouldn’t really be in this side of the contenders divide, the only reason for naming it here is mainly because it has been the last to come into being that still works with the same precepts of the other browser, it’s probably the fastest and “cleanest” of them all, its offer is all about “back to basics, but efficiently so”.
Next (Content) Generation
So far it was all about letting you visit pages and get content from them, but that’s so oh my god last season!
The next samples are showcases of how the browser realms may be threatened to vanish as we know them, giving rise to some utterly different offerings for doing pretty much the same stuff we do already online.
Enter the first successful non free browser to hit the shelves since Netscape: Skyfire may be only available for IDevices (namely IPhone and IPad ) but on launch day it was so sought after that it almost ended up being too successful for its own good. Skyfire won’t just let you browse the internet, it will transform for you any content that can’t be played natively on your IDevice, as long as that content is flash videos, that is. for doing this it uses a cluster of servers that will pre process the video for you (more on the specifics here).
The Social Browsers
What could possibly be better than having Facebook and Twitter in tandem on a site? well, according to these two challengers that would be having Facebook and Twitter on EVERY site, even a 404 page, in other words, incrusted straight into the browser itself. Both RockMelt (Backed by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen) and Flock boldly go where no browser has gone before, offering the possibility of working with your social networks in ways simply not feasible with traditional Browser software.
If their promotional videos are any indication (both home sites have eerily the same basic layout, as if a parallel brain structure was needed to germinate any product in this new field of social browser applications), these highly social media integrated browsers will enable a whole new level of social mediation by making your personal and social info part of the context in which the browsers themselves operate, everything from sharing links with friends to discovering venues to searching in Google will be re-rendered according to personal info and these browsers will do all the legwork of fetching relevant content from your social media circles.
While Rockmelt needs you to login to Facebook in order to request a personalized download link sent to you via mail, Flock is freely available for download from their site. Rockmelt has a good reason for being so “selective”, all of the context from which it will feed its functionality will come from the cloud, in Skyfire style, Rockmelt will actually bring in its own computing might into the core of the software, this just made me wonder how they will manage “browse offline”.
Caught in the crossfire
As a webmaster responsible to deliver “cross browser” code, the stress induced lump in my stomach swells every time I hear the inception of a new browser in the field.
Hopefully the advent of HTML5 and CSS3 will lower the burden, also, Rockmelt at least is based upon the webkit frame, so it comes from a true and tested environment and presumably not the cause for implementation concerns.
What might be
These three new players have one thing in common; they present an additional layer of code between the user and the information on the internet, helping it evolve into knowledge, changing the paradigm for the term “browsing”, and by doing so, changing the way we expect the online world to behave and gratify us.
The Old School better take heed before they get relieved from duty.