Dancing With the Web Browsers

[image of dancing birds]Web browsers are like IMAP clients -- ideally you can use any web browser to access & manage web pages, just like ideally you can use any IMAP client to access & manage messages. The analogy is this:

Web browser:web pages :: IMAP client:messages [*]

Unfortunately, these are only ideals and it's currently not completely easy to switch web browsers (or IMAP clients). To be able to easily switch web browsers, you need to be able to use any web browser to:
  1. view any web page,
  2. update & manage your bookmarks,
  3. update & manage your saved web pages, and
  4. update & manage your web-page subscriptions (web feeds).
If you could easily do all this, you would never need to choose a particular web browser and, instead, you could dance with them all. Even though it's not currently easy to do all this, it is possible. Here's how I do it:
  1. Nowadays, thanks to web standards, most web pages are viewable (as intended!) by most web browsers. This was not the case in the 1990s.
  2. I use my del.icio.us bookmarks and the del.icio.us bookmarklets to update & manage my bookmarks from any browser.
  3. I use the "Send Page by Email" feature of my browsers to save web pages, the update part of #3. I'll discuss the manage part of #3 in a future post.
  4. I use Bloglines and the Bloglines bookmarklets to update & manage my web feeds from any browser.
So, after setting up the above web-based services, bookmarklets, and email-this-page filters (details about this later), I do not feel locked in to any one browser and I almost always have at least two browsers running. The big question is: How do you decide what to use as your primary browser? Here are the factors that go into my decision.
  1. It works! Speed, efficient use of system resources, and no (or rare) crashes are essential.
  2. Standards compliance -- for discussion about the compliance of various web browsers, see the Acid2 test at Wikipedia.
  3. My required features are part of the default browser, i.e., do not require any add-ons or extensions.
  4. Cross-platform -- I want to be able to switch platforms (Linux, MS-Windows, OS X) and still be able to use the browser and its keyboard shortcuts that my fingers have memorized.
  5. Keyboard shortcuts that are consistent with most other browsers. For example, CMD-click (OS X) or CTRL-click (MS-WIN) opens a link in a background tab in most browsers. I do not want to have to re-train my fingers when I switch to another browser. As I posted in this opera.general thread titled SHIFT-CMD-Click and CMD-Click, this is one of the reasons I don't use Opera as my primary browser.
  6. FLOSS -- if everything else is equal, I'll choose FLOSS software over non-FLOSS software.
  7. The development team -- if the development team, or its parent organization, are not straightforward and transparent, I am less likely to use their software.
Given these factors, what browser do you think I should use? Unfortunately, at the moment, there's no clear choice for me. SeaMonkey Suite comes closest, but I am disheartened by the lack of transparency from Mozilla.org and Mozilla.com. I have no idea whether SeaMonkey Suite is not-for-profit or for-profit. I don't care which it is, I just want a clear answer. The fact that they are not straightforward about this makes me wary. If MS IE7 were cross-platform, I would probably choose it because Microsoft is absolutely clear about their for-profit status and IE7 seems to satisfy my factors A, B, C, E, and G.

What do you think? What browser do you use as your primary browser and why did you make that choice? Do you use more than one browser? If so, which ones?

Update: Thanks to a comment from Eric Fourage, I've rewritten part of this blog item to try to clarify the analogy between web browsers and IMAP clients that I was trying to make. Let me know if you have any suggestion for improving this analogy!

[*] A better analogy might be Web browser:web site :: IMAP client:mailbox
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Don't you think the features 2 & 3 you mention would better be supported by http/webdav instead of IMAP ? (think about webdav/ical sync for example)
Another point that will rise -in my opinion- wil be the usage of multiple web browsers: home, work (their bookmarks, history, sessions,... could be yet synchronized with extensions) and mobile: first solution could be a MIDP/Windows Mobile browser project that could sync with the other browsers, the other solution could be a new web-surfing protocol with bookmarks/history/sessions/
passwords/cookies/.... synchro.


Hi Eric, I was trying to make an analogy between IMAP clients and Web browsers, but I'm afraid that mentioning IMAP just confused things! I wrote that any (web) browser should be able to update & manage 2) my bookmarks and 3) my saved web pages. I did not mention the protocol (and was not thinking of IMAP). The analogy I was trying to make is this:

IMAP client:messages :: web browser:web pages

The point I was trying to make is that we should be able to easily switch web browsers in the same way we can easily switch IMAP clients because the data and metadata are stored on servers. (So I absolutely agree with you that multiple web browsers for a single user is a key issue.)

If you want to discuss protocols, though, my guess is that it will be feed protocols that solve all these problems (multiple web browsers, multiple email clients, etc.). As Ray Ozzie said, and as I quoted here, "RSS has the potential to be the “UNIX pipe of the internet.”"

Thank you for your comment. I should probably edit this blog item to try to make it more clear, but for now I hope this comment helps a bit to clarify what I was trying to say.


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