Does My Web Browser REALLY Matter?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
When you’re creating or updating your website, you need to be aware that the site may look different across types of devices for a variety of reasons, including screen size and resolution. One key reason for the differences in appearance has to do with the web browser being used. Therefore, when you are proofing a newly developed or revised website, the browser you use matters. So, let’s look at how browsers work and why it’s important to use the “right” browser (or browsers).
What Is a Web Browser?
In short, browsers are what allow us to visit websites as we now know them. Prior to 1990, the internet was primarily text-based. (If you’re not old enough to remember the black screens and green, pixelated text, you’ve likely seen an example in a movie from the 80s or 90s.) It was boring, the information wasn’t all interconnected as it is today, and it was pretty much useless to without the technical know-how to navigate it.
That began to change in 1990 when the web browser WorldWideWeb (later named Nexus to avoid confusion) was developed. Then in 1992, the creation of the Mosaic browser sparked the internet’s explosion in popularity by allowing for easier navigation and creating the ability to create more visually interesting websites. Plus, you no longer needed to be a programmer to get online!
Web browsers have come a long way since they first arrived on the scene, but in short, a web browser is a software application that fetches written code (e.g., HTML, XML, CSS) from a website and translates it into a page on your screen that you can view and navigate. If it weren’t for web browsers, you’d need to be like Neo’s crew in “The Matrix” and read the code directly. (Okay, not exactly, but you get the idea!)
Today’s Web Browsers
When browsers were invented, web pages were static. Over the last 30 years, websites and applications have become exponentially complex, which means browsers must manage and translate way more code than they used to. For example, unlike early browsers, today’s options allow for tabbed browsing (you used to have to open a separate window to open multiple sites!), have built-in securing features, load much faster, and support plug-ins.There are a variety of web browsers available today, but nearly all of them use the underlying software from three main “engines,” which are WebKit (powers Safari), Gecko (FireFox), and Blink (Chrome, Opera, Brave & others).
Each of these has the same job of translating code into webpages. What differs is how they do it, based upon their algorithms for translating code expressions and syntax. For example, one might first render text, then images when translating the code to the page, and another might do the opposite. Also, each may have a different way for managing processes going on across the 47* tabs you have open on your browser. (*Yes – or is it just me?)
The Five Major Desktop Browsers:
– Microsoft Edge
Top Mobile Browsers:
– iOS (iPhone)
– Opera Mini
– Nokia S40
The browsers’ different routines for performing their functions is what makes websites look, load, or work differently from one device to the next.
What You Really Need to Know about Web Browsers
Okay, so why did you need to know all of that? Well, because no two computers, across browsers, are going to display your website in the exact same way, and this can matter to your visitors. Often the differences among the web browsers will produce only subtle visual differences that won’t make much difference to the user. However, there are times when some functional features of a website simply won’t work in a given browser, while they work just fine in others.
As we described elsewhere, it’s impossible for your web developer to make your site look ideal on every browser and device. Instead, designers create sites with cross-browser compatibility, so that visitors can interact with the site, as it’s supposed to function, without breaking it. (It’s a bit of an art and a science to make this happen!)
Trouble can arise between business owners and web developers if the designer is testing the site against the top browsers, but the business owner doesn’t like what they see because they’re viewing it on a different browser. Plus, as a business owner, you should be aware of which browsers your potential customers are likely using.
What You Need to Do about Your Web Browser
According to Statcounter, Chrome, FireFox, and Safari comprise about 70% of desktop browsing globally, with Chrome owning the bulk of that at 65.8%. On mobile, 54% of visitors are using Android, iPhone, or Chrome. Therefore, all other things being equal, your site visitors are most likely to be using these browsers versus other options. For example, note that Microsoft Edge accounts for under 2% of the market. So, if you’re using Edge because that’s what came with your PC, we recommend downloading one of the other options. (In case you didn’t know, you can install multiple browsers on any computer.)
And speaking of Edge…believe it or not, we still occasionally come across someone who is still using Internet Explorer (IE)! Introduced in 1995, IE once held a near monopoly. However, for years, IE struggled with bugs, as well as security and performance issues. In 2015, Microsoft released Microsoft Edge to replace IE, and although IE is still available, the company no longer supports the software (i.e., patches problems).
With respect to Microsoft, the moral of the story is: If you’re still using Internet Explorer, STOP. It will make things look terrible and has the potential to create other challenges. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go now and download one of the alternatives.
If you are already using one of the most popular browsers, you may still want to download one or two of the others. Even if you stick to one for day-to-day computing, you can use the other browsers to better understand how users will interact with your site.
It’s wise to know how “healthy” your site is. On top of knowing how your site appears and functions with various browsers, you should check up on other performance issues routinely. So, we have good news for you! You can give your site a health check – for free! CLICK HERE and enter your details to receive a report on your site’s performance.