I recently did a quick review of Firefox 5 here on TechRepublic, which made me realize how frustrating and in flux the whole browser war has been. Firefox was once unbeatable. Then it became bogged down with bloat. Chrome came along and with unmatched speed, stole users away from both IE and Firefox. But now Chrome has its own issues (such as errant processes taking the CPU hostage), so Firefox and IE have become the marginal favorites again.
No matter how you slice it, the browser competition is in a state of constant change and turmoil. If it's not a memory leak, it's a lack of standards, or bloat. Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. I'm going to suggest 10 things developers should focus on to bring all browsers to a level where the decision to be made is not based on which is worse, but which is best.
This is the big one, Elizabeth. Holding a browser to standards anymore seems like giving a cat a bath — it's just not going to happen. Why this is so, at this point in the Internet/computer evolution, I can't figure out. But each browser seems to want to follow its own set of standards. There is a reason the WC3 exists, and it's not to create tests and standards just to toot its own horn. Browser developers need to take a huge step forward toward standardization so that people don't need more than one browser installed just to make sure they can get all their work done.
2: Memory leaks
I am guilty of leaving browsers open all day. I would love to be able to do this without having to worry that my browser (or a tab within a browser) is going to decide to get hungry and devour every CPU cycle my PC owns. I have plenty of other applications I can leave open all day, but I do much of my work within a browser. These memory leaks cause untold problems and data loss.
Give each of your browsers a go and see how much variation you find in performance. Mine are all over the board and can even vary from task to task. Chrome opens insanely fast and renders crazy fast. Firefox appears to handle tabs much better (at least in version 5). Internet Explorer seems to avoid becoming crippled when certain plugins are used. Browsers, regardless of version, need to enjoy the fastest, most reliable performance possible, as they are quickly becoming of the most widely used tools in both business and home.
There is such a huge discrepancy in how each browser renders, I'm flummoxed as to how developers have yet to jump on the standardization bandwagon to make sure the playing field is leveled. But it's not just the results of the rendering — the speed at which browsers render also comes into play. And now that mobile device browsers are becoming a factor, rendering on 3G and 4G speeds as well as form factor becomes an issue. Some browsers cache data before rendering, some browsers render on the fly. Which is better? It depends upon who you ask. I think it would be best to have a rendering standard that would help boost both render time and perfect site layout for all browsers.
Browsers today are full of themselves — and everything else. Bloat is a huge issue now. Add-ons have certainly helped, because they place the onus on the end user to install or not install extra features. But even with add-ons, browsers (like everything else) seem to suffer from bloat. Instead of adding new features with every release, make it a priority to fix the features (and/or remove some of the current crop) that already exist.
6: Universal plug-ins
Plug-ins for browsers run the gamut of functionality and usefulness. There are some that (for me) are actually must-haves. One of these is Shareaholic, which lets me quickly tweet a page or post a page to Facebook — something I do frequently to market my articles and my books. But with each browser, even common plug-ins function differently (and in some cases, don't function at all). For example, Shareaholic on Chrome doesn't always pop up the share window. On Firefox, it never fails. Plug-ins need to have universal functionality and work as expected on each browser. Yes, I realize this is as much on the plug-in developer as it is on the browser developer, so it always comes back to el numero uno!
As a consultant, I shouldn't be surprised by the number of problems caused by the lack of security in browsers. Yes, there are add-ons to give the browsers a boost. But the core of browser security should come from the browser itself. End users are not always up on the latest add-ons and do not realize that sometimes a browser's security is only as strong as the configuration they've enabled.
Cookies cause problems. There is no way around that fact. Security issues, login issues — you name it and cookies cause it. I believe it's time for browser developers to come up with a different subsystem to handle things that are tasked to cookies. With a more secure, easily managed system of tracking information, browsers will become safer and more reliable. (And when they do develop a new system, I certainly hope they come up with a better name than "cookies.")
9: Browser as "OS"
Since the advent of the Chrome OS, I have had a problem with an OS that seems to be, on the surface, nothing more than a giant rendering engine for a Web browser. The browser-as-OS is a limiting concept that might have had its moment, but that moment has passed. With tablets becoming widespread, the mobile device is going to continue to grow in popularity. If the browser-as-OS format gains traction, mobile providers better step it up and improve speeds across the board. Otherwise, these tablets are going to cause untold headaches. And seeing as how the browser is still such a point of frustration with end users, doesn't it makes sense that a browser-as-OS would make for an even larger headache?
10: For Linux
Okay, I realize this is a point of contention (and most likely, a licensing issue), but why is it so hard to have a Linux distribution and/or browser install with the plug-ins that are ready to use? If it's a licensing issue, just have the agreement pop up when the browser is first run. As if any user is going to say "No" to the Flash Player license. Come on! This is a matter of making things as simple as possible for the end user. Everyone uses Flash — so make it a no-brainer on Linux.
Around the corner
Will these issues cure the world of its uglier problems? No... not even close. But these improvements could make using a browser a much richer experience. Now, I am not a developer. I never claimed to be. I have no idea if these issues can be resolved. But if they can, I highly recommend they be. If they can't be addressed right now, maybe in the near future. Browsing has become one of the single most important tasks on a computer, for many reasons. Making this experience as secure and efficient as possible should be at the top of the list.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.