The Advantages & Importance of Web Browsers

By Eleanor McKenzie

The Web is essentially a publishing medium that shares characteristics with more traditional publishing media. Web browsers have a similar function to print publishers. They conform to certain standards that ensure that a website designed in any part of the world looks the way its creators expect it to. Web browsers developed along with the Web and there are now at least five widely used ones. Web browsers are not the same thing as search engines, which find information.

Web Standards

Web standards form the foundation of the Web publishing. Web standards are technical specifications that dictate the methods for building and designing websites. Sites complying with these standards use valid Hypertext Markup Language, valid character encoding, metadata and character embedding, as well as valid server settings. If a website doesn't follow these standards, there is no guarantee that it will display fully in all browsers, and users may find that they can't perform some site transactions unless they have a specific browser version. On the other hand, when browser developers don't follow these standards, Web developers face incompatibility issues. Web sites and Web browsers need to follow the same set of rules to achieve universal uniformity of appearance.

Browser Incompatibility

Prior to the introduction of Web standards, Web developers faced the problem of browser incompatibility. This lack of a "one website fits all browsers" added to significant costs to website development. Developers on low budgets were forced to build sites that locked out some users as they had to choose which browsers a website would be compatible with and the ones they would ignore. Also, some browsers didn't support the Web standards specifications, so developers questioned the logic of using the standards if the browsers didn't use them as well. The development of Web standards in 1998, attempted to iron out this issue and get site and browser developers to use the same standards.

Browser Development

Mosaic was the original Web browser. The company developed Netscape Navigator, which quickly just became known as Netscape. In 1999, Microsoft launched Internet Explorer, which took over Netscape's market share, largely due to most PCs coming bundled with Microsoft software. In 2002, Mozilla introduced its free open source browser that anyone could download. Mozilla is the old Netscape in a new form, and in 2004 the Firefox version appeared. Google's Chrome browser is one of the newest browsers. Apple Macs come with the Safari browser, but Mac users are free to use one of the other browsers.

Browser Qualities

One of the most important qualities a browser should have is the ability to load Web pages quickly regardless of how dynamic the content is. Browsers must be able to load graphic images and videos rapidly and not wait for minutes while the page downloads. It is important for users to know that they are not stuck with the default browser that comes with the computer. Read reviews of browsers, and try out alternatives with some favorite websites to see how well the browser performs. Use the Acid3 test to how quickly each browser loads a page.