Browser Reviews: A Brief History

After Al Gore invented the internet for us, we realized we needed a way to walk around the thousands upon thousands (and now billions upon billions) of sites that were out there. Meet the browser. To the best of my knowledge, Al Gore has never claimed part in inventing the browser, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Just for fun, and before we start to really rip apart the benchmarks of Google Chrome, let’s look at some old, failed browsers so we can scoff at them (by order of appearance).

WorldWideWeb (1991-1994) – I actually can’t call this pioneer a failure. After all, it was the world’s first web browser. By the way, it was only released for NeXTSTEP OS. The operating system created by NeXT Computer, a company that was founded by none other than Steve Jobs. The NeXTSTEP OS was quite literally the parent of Mac OS X, and it was also the very first object-oriented and multi-task-ready operating system. (Boy, it’s amazing what that Steve Jobs can do …) However, in 1993 the developers released the source code, thus making the program freeware and allowing for the development of it’s children, ViolaWWW, MidasWWW, MacWWW, and their big brother Mosaic.

Netscape Navigator (1994-2007) – Mosaic/Netscape rose to power and popularity much faster than Internet Explorer did, and since it was owned by Netscape Communications, a successful company that was pivotal in getting internet readily accessible in every home, the browser had plenty of funding. However, Microsoft was simply a bigger, more powerful company, and the beneficial wars between Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer were eventually won by Internet Explorer. While Netscape failed miserably by allowing their poorly coded browser to get disgustingly bloated with features, their ultimate failure was in 1999 when they allowed America Online to buy then. Who cares if they offered you ten billion dollars! Immediately following Netscape’s acquisition by AOL, they lost over 30% of their market share in less than one year.

HotJava (1994-1999) – A very customizable, extensible browser that was built around Java in order to easily execute Applets. The ingenuity of HotJava is that it’s a browser coded entirely in Java, thus making it extremely portable. The downside to HotJava is that it’s coded entirely in Java, thus limiting it to the JRE and leaving it a fairly slow memory hog, and with the presence of Java so readily incorporated into more recent browsers and the growing popularity of Macromedia’s Flash, the project was terminated.

Internet Explorer (1995-Present) – It doesn’t need much introduction or explanation. But Internet Explorer has always been interested in integrating (not outsourcing to extensions) functionality at the expense of ease-of-use, security, and speed. And, let’s be honest, it’s Microsoft … Therefore, a failure.

OmniWeb (1995-Present) – Wouldn’t you know it, it’s another NeXTSTEP OS browser! That being the case, it graduated, along with it’s OS, to Mac OS X, and that is where it resides today. Unfortunately, this is a limit for it. While it was a good browser in the area of speed, and very minimalistic, it lacked key functionality and compatibility with some of the most recent web innovations, so it falls short.

Internet Explorer for Mac (1996-2005) – Wow. It was simply horrible. Probably the worst maintained browser of all time. It went through three updates in one year, went silent for three years, released it’s fourth update in 2000, then was untouched until it’s termination in 2005. It was incompatible, buggy, crashed more than anything, and incredibly slow!

Opera (1996-Present) – I’ve always felt that Opera failed when it came to honesty in advertising. They used to claim to be the “fastest browser” ever made. Well, they’ve since revoked that claim … It claims it’s “faster” on their website now. Faster than what? I’m not sure, because until the most recent release (9.5) I’ve never been pleased with the speed of the browser. Though, even with 9.5, I still think Firefox is faster, and you can’t argue with the speed I get from Safari. Around version 7, Opera bloated the browser beyond belief, thus slowing it to a crawl. They’ve since revamped the interface and it the newest release it’s actually quite efficient. However, compatibility has always been an issue with it.

Gzilla (1997-1999) – The developer was last heard from on August 16, 1999, pleading for help on his very own site. Apparently he could get his browser to compile on anything other than Linux/x86, so he was begging for outside help. It’s rumored the browser emerged a few months later as as Dillo, but that’s just probably not true. I’m guessing Mozilla felt threatened by the last five letters of his browser’s name, so they took him out.

MyIE/Maxthon (2000-Present) – Maxthon’s clincher is that it’s extremely customizable. It advertises itself as an adaptable alternative to Internet Explorer. The negative clincher is it’s only for Windows. On top of that, it crashes too frequently. It’s not slow, but reliability is a big factor when writing a browser, and if your browser crashes on me too often, I’m not going to use it.

Firefox (2002-Present) – The most successful browser to incorporate extensions. Since Netscape completely fell of the face of the planet somewhere around 2003, Firefox has been the most used cross-platform web browser. It boasts speed, elegance, and integrated functionality. Even better, you can add basically any functionality you desire through extensions; this is what has made Firefox so well known. Unfortunately, Firefox loses a lot of security when they allow third-party extensions. More than that, extensions are impossible for the creators of Firefox to maintain, so when the browser is updated, there’s always the risk (and it very frequently happens) of losing compatibility with extensions. Not very convenient for the extension programmers or their users.

AOL Explorer (2005-Present?) – It’s AOL … We already know why it fails: Overpriced, slow, inefficient, and unstable. Apparently the browser is still around, but it’s now a part of the AIM package.

Flock (2005-Present) – Flock’s biggest asset is that it’s multi-platform. On top of that, much like Maxthon, it boasts customizability! It integrates beautifully with many popular websites, including Facebook, iGoogle, Flickr, Digg, Twitter, etc. On top of that, it does allow extensions. It has a main page that keeps all of your favorites and information organized and easily accessible. Unfortunately, it still is rather buggy, and speed is also a bit of an issue with it. It enjoys freezing on it’s users.