Users the Winners in Browser War
If you are reading this on a computer in Indonesia, the odds are good that you’re doing so through the Mozilla Firefox browser.
As good as 75 percent, according to StatCounter, a Web analytics firm. Worldwide, though, Firefox accounts for just 27 percent of the desktop browser share, less than the 41 percent for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, the default browser on the vast majority of computers.
There’s a good reason for Firefox’s domination of Indonesian desktops, according to Viking Karwur, the manager of the Mozilla Indonesia community.
“If you give people the freedom to choose, they’ll choose the best,” he said. “What you get from Firefox are the latest innovations and the freedom to customize the browsing experience.”
Proponents of Firefox have long dubbed it the “people’s browser” for being the most viable alternative to Explorer, but that could change soon.
While current data gives Firefox a hefty lead, the long-term pattern shows a declining trend.
The biggest beneficiary is Google’s Chrome, at 23 percent worldwide and almost 17 percent in Indonesia. It is currently the subject of a five-week promotional campaign in Indonesia.
Chrome, introduced in 2008, is earning plaudits as the fastest — and fastest-growing — browser.
But that is a crown contested by Opera, an earlier version of which was touted by its developers in Norway as the “fastest browser on Earth.”
“At Opera, we have speed in our DNA,” said Jan Standal, Opera’s vice president of products.
“Our desktop browser is, for example, the only browser that is also designed to work well with mobile network conditions.”
Its 2.4-percent share of the desktop browser scene in Indonesia belies the fact that Opera predates both Chrome and Firefox, and that it may be the most advanced browser available, judging by its string of pioneering firsts.
Benchmark tests by a range of tech sites give either Chrome or Opera the title of the fastest browser.
All the tests, however, are predicated on a fast, stable Internet connection — something that is not common in Indonesia.
“Opera’s unique turbo compression is specifically designed for network conditions that are not that great, such as changing mobile connections or crowded Wi-Fi networks,” Standal said.
“Therefore, we believe Opera is by far the fastest browser for people who are on the move.”
Turbo in Opera is a feature that compresses content on Web pages by up to 80 percent, ensuring that sites load quicker on slow connections. None of the other browsers boast compression technology.
Chrome, though, has its own bag of tricks, said Andrew McGlinchey, the head of product management at Google Southeast Asia.
“There is a feature where it can pre-load pages that it thinks you are likely to click on next,” he said.
“So based on the Web site you have open, if there’s a link on there, it can be pre-caching. When you click, it’s already pre-loaded.”
Viking insists that the latest version of Mozilla’s browser, Firefox 7, is just as fast when it comes to the benchmark tests. But he also points out that browser speed is dependent on several factors, from the computer’s specifications and the amount of data in the browser’s cache and history to the presence of add-ons or extensions meant to add functionality.
Raw speed, the kind that Chrome is fast gaining a reputation for, should not be the ultimate measure of a browser’s performance, Viking said. “At Mozilla, we say ‘Every browser does fast, but not every browser does good.’ ”
Good, in the Mozilla sense of the term, means full ownership of the browser and its features by users.
This sense of shared ownership has long been Mozilla’s strength as it draws on an extensive grassroots community of developers to come up with the extensions, innovations and new features incorporated into its browser, Viking said.
Already Firefox’s suite of extensions and add-ons — analogous to apps for a smartphone — is the biggest of any browser’s.
It next plans to roll out WebGL, a technology designed to use hardware graphics acceleration to render fast, seamless and interactive 3-D content on Web pages.
Features that it currently offers as standard include private browsing, whereby no data from a given browsing session is stored, as well as clumping tabs together in groups to avoid clutter at the top of the window.
Chrome also fares well in the features stakes. Though just three years old, its suite of extensions has grown considerably, with some people predicting it will soon overtake Firefox.
Users are also encouraged to develop extensions to give the browser a more local feel.
“It’s about openness and collaboration,” McGlinchey said.
“The headquarters in Mountain View [California] cannot do everything that Indonesians need. Indonesians know what Indonesians need, so we provide the tools for people to build something that is special.”
Chrome also offers private browsing, called Incognito, and embraces the use of HTML5, the latest evolution of the HTML scripting language, which allows users to run applications in the browser rather than merely view Web pages or download content, McGlinchey said.
The Internet, he continued, was now more about applications than static content. “So you can actually run a word processor or a spreadsheet in your browser,” he said.
It is Opera, though, that has long been on the cutting edge when it comes to features. It was the first browser to use tabbed browsing and the first, and so far only, to include a built-in e-mail client.
It also has mouse gestures, whereby the user can navigate Web pages and open new tabs using a combination of mouse movements. Firefox also offers this, but through an add-on.
Another feature, called Speed Dial, acts like a sort of visual bookmark list, showing live updated thumbnail images of the user’s favorite sites.
Things like private browsing and stacked tabs come as standard, as does Opera Unite, which allows the browser to act as a Web server, to host a site, provide file-sharing services, a chat room and the ability to stream media.
On the issue of Internet security, proponents of the three browsers say they fare equally well. All provide customizable pop-up blockers, boast malware filters and can detect phishing sites.
Last month, though, it was reported that a new kind of attack could allow hackers to break into the secure connection between a browser and a server by exploiting the transport layer security 1.0 protocol, the most commonly used standard for establishing a secure connection, such as that used for e-mail, banking and other online accounts.
Opera, which adopted the more secure TLS 1.1 and 1.2 protocols years earlier, was cited as the only browser not susceptible to this kind of attack. Google and Mozilla have since announced that they would release patches to allow their browsers to handle TLS 1.1 and 1.2.
For many users, Viking and McGlinchey said, all this will have little bearing on their browsing preferences.
These users, they point out, have already picked their favorites and will be reluctant to switch to another browser that essentially does the same job.
Where it will have an impact is in the continued stream of improvements to each browser as new features and security measures are developed and adopted across all platforms.
“The way we look at it, with more choices, features and browsers, there will be more content going online and the user will benefit,” said Daud I. Aditirto, Opera’s business development director for Indonesia.
On that point, all sides agree.
“We’re not really trying to compare apples to oranges. We’re just trying to make things people like,” McGlinchey said.
“And other people are doing the same thing, and choice is good.”
So after all this, what is the best browser? Mozilla’s Viking sums it up best.
“If you’re already using a browser that suits you,” he said, “why would you want to switch to another?”