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Choice Matters. So Does Your Browser!

Conceptual internet imageFirst off, it is important to clarify what a web browser is, and it is summed up beautifully by the Open To Choice website.

The Web browser is the lens through which we look at the virtual world, and the medium by which we connect, learn, share and collaborate. The browser you choose is responsible for providing you with the necessary tools to manage your online life, and to protect your privacy and security.

As of the beginning of this week Microsoft have unleashed, what will be for many, a confusing little screen that tells them to install something they don’t quite understand. The problem with this is that they don’t quite understand what they are being asked to choose, and there is nothing on that little screen to give them the information they need to know.

In this, admittedly long, blog post, I will attempt to help clear things up and explain to you, just what it is that you are being asked to choose and why it is important. As a Mozilla Community Volunteer it is obvious that I will have a certain bias towards a certain browser that you have / are going to be asked to choose from. So I will also do my best to keep bias out of this post as well.

So what is a web browser. Well it is for many, nothing! They simply don’t know what it is. When you ask someone to go to the internet, most of the time, many people will click on a blue “e” and that is it! That blue “e” is the internet to them. It may even be what you believe the internet is. This is not your fault. Until now there has not been this ease of choice and so many have had no need to know what a web browser. Nor have you.

question mark on blue sky - 3d illustrationWhat is this web browser… Really?

The web browser, as mentioned at the very beginning of this post, is the tool that you use to view the internet. The internet is not the blue “e” it is a complex and complicated series of cables circling the globe, and running around on these cables is information. This information, in whatever form it be, is what most of us know as “The Internet”. The blue “e” is the tool you use to make the Internet make sense, and make it easy to use. Without needing to know how all the complicated jiggery-pokery behind the scenes is working.

So, we now know what a browser is, but why is the choice so important?

This question is a little harder to answer, but here goes.

The choice on which browser you make has a big impact on how you will experience the web. With different browser having different leading strengths and features, it can get confusing. Don’t be scared by this though, when you boil it down, it turns out that this choice is easy.

The best way to make your choice is to visit the “Tell me more” button just beneath the options presented to you, and visit them all. Sum up the pros, and cons, the things you like and dislike, and go on your preferred option. Not only that but go with the people who make you feel more comfortable. Finally, don’t just choose Microsoft Internet Explorer because you know it, and it is made by the same people who make your operating system (find out more) or your office applications. Take serious note of the other options that are given to you.

What does this screen you talk of look like? I have not seen it yet!

If you haven’t seen it yet do not be alarmed, you will at some point soon. It will look like the following, however the choices may be in a different order. This is a good thing, as it means that no one company has an advantage over the others at this point in your decision making, allowing you to make a more informed choice.

Note that if you click on the above picture it will take you to the actual page.

Some advice (this bit will be a little bit bias)

Without telling you which to choose I have some further advice for you. On the whole, the open source options are safer, more up-to-date, faster, and more reliable. This is due to them being open. There are many people, all over the world working on these browsers to make them the best that they can be. This is not true with the closed source options as they don’t allow people other than a small group of individuals, to work on and contribute to the browser.

Which of the choices are open source then?

Out of the first 5 options you see only Mozilla Firefox is completely open source with Google Chrome and Safari both being partly open. Opera and Internet Explorer are the least open of them all, being completely locked down.

Note: This section was updated as soon as I realised that I had left it in complete disarray from the many changes I made to it. My apologies go out to all those that read this before the update as well as to those of you who received this in your feed readers.

Overview

The internet is not the blue “e”, it is the tool you use to see the internet. It is a vital tool in day to day life now and knows a lot about you. When making the choice about which browser to choose don’t just go with what you know, go with what seems the best based on the information you can gain from the internet and from the “Tell me more” buttons on the choice screen. Finally, if you need any more information, or a good place to send your friends and family to help them understand the choice that they also will be presented with, visit www.opentochoice.org.

The choices we make determine the quality of our life, and how we see the world. So many of these choices we take quite seriously, weighing the consequences, thinking about the implications, and choosing carefully and thoughtfully.

So it’s strange, then, that the majority of people in the world haven’t ever considered the Web browser on their computer or mobile phone — that so many people every day use the browser that comes by default.

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26 Comments

  1. The sentence “Out of the first 5 options you see only Mozilla Firefox, and Opera are open source. Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Safari are not.” is both completely wrong and imprecise to the point of confusion.

    Opera certainly isn’t open source, unless there was a major announcement recently that I’ve somehow missed.

    Google Chrome and Safari are both partially open-source; in both cases the rendering engine is entirely open-source, and in Google Chrome’s case the vast majority of the “browser chrome” is open-source, too. For purposes of the argument you made in the paragraph preceding the sentence I quoted (“safer, more up-to-date, faster, more reliable”), Safari and Google Chrome are almost as good as Firefox, particularly if you believe that most security vulnerabilities are at the rendering engine layer rather than at the application layer.

    Put another way, on a scale from 100% open-source to 0% open-source, Firefox is at 100%, Google Chrome is somewhere around 90-80% (there are a small handful of things included with Google Chrome that aren’t available in Chromium, but by and large the apps are identical), Safari is about 50% (WebKit is fully open-source; Safari-the-app is 0% open-source), and Internet Explorer and Opera are 0%.

    It’s important that those trying to educate users about this already-confusing issue have their facts straight.

    • “…Opera are 0%.”

      Not true as Opera Dragonfly is open source and therefore the percentages must be above 0.

      Not that this open source vs. closed source would matter. Open web matters.

    • Aha, this comment kind of explains what I commented on below. You must have said this before the updates. It just goes to show how confused people are about the benefits of open source (don’t get me wrong, they exist, but they aren’t all-encompassing like a big wand on the software industry).

  2. Opera is open source? When did that change? As far as I know, it is as tightly held as IE.

    On the other hand, webkit, which is the basis for Chrome and Safari, is open, although webkit is only one (significant) part of the browser technology.

  3. Woah time out.

    You really should mention that Safari’s core, Webkit, is open source. In addition Google Chrome is built from the open source Chromium project with Google branding. AFAIK you can even build Google Chrome with branding, you just aren’t licensed to distribute it in that form (you can only distribute the unbranded Chromium).

    • I will make the needed changes, I did change that section a few times, and a few mistakes have arisen. These are going to be corrected as soon as I finish moderating the flood of comments I have telling me much the same as you have :/

  4. Out of the first 5 options you see only Mozilla Firefox, and Opera are open source.

    Opera is open-source? When did that happen? Far as I know, it’s still free but proprietary, same as all the others bar Firefox. Doesn’t even use an open engine like Safari and Chrome do…

  5. “Out of the first 5 options you see only Mozilla Firefox, and Opera are open source”

    Opera is open source? Really? Where can I download its source code then?

  6. Uh.. Opera is not open source.

    Chrome pretty much is, last I checked.

    So I don’t know where your “Which of the choices are open source then?” thing is coming from…

  7. And, unfortunately, SeaMonkey is another great open source browser that was withheld from the “ballot” just because it’s counted as being “from Mozilla” as well and one “vendor” can’t have two browsers on there :(

    • Agreed, Chrome and Safari are just as much the same browser as Firefox and SeaMonkey are, but apparently the ballot was not decided on this basis, but rather on popularity. Not sure what statistics they used for that though, European ones I should think.

    • Indeed I did. In the mind set I was in, it was more about what the vast majority of people are going to be thinking their choice is made up of, and, what options the majority are likely to choose. I do think that the browsers to the right deserve more in the way of notice, but at the moment, they are hidden away to the right of the list and so many wont notice them. Nothing I can do about that unfortunately.

  8. Opera may not be open source, but it is still an incredible secondary tool for browsing, Firefox 3.6 of course being the best, and has many erstwhile benefits including speed, stability and security.
    IE is of course just dodgy, takes ages to load and is prone to more crashes than any other

  9. Um, open source software is better because more people edit it, and closed source software is not so good because only a few people can edit it.

    Surely, you know that the reasoning is flawed. Don’t you think you are deceiving the laypersons as much as a certain someone with mumbo jumbo?

  10. Opera is completely locked down? What bullshit!!
    Opera has been strongly advocating Open Web and Open technologies. It’s business model makes open sourcing the engine unfeasible however that doesn’t mean that its completely locked down.
    The latest eg was the implementation of HTML5 video codec. Opera supported mozilla and went ahead with Ogg Theora. Not only that Opera used an open source utility GStramer in their implementation and although took the trouble of porting it to Win and Mac (the source code for both are available as per license).

    Opera Dragonfly is also a completely open source project. Please don’t put Opera in the same category as MS IE and check your facts.

  11. Open Source does not matter as long as open technologies have been embraced. To me, Opera is one of the best browsers out there with a lot of built in features that most users never ever need a memory eating add-on to be installed. And it has consistently been the least memory consuming browser yet the most feature rich out of the box. For people moving through platforms like Windows and Linux and mobile, it’s the most ideal web browser.

    And yet it supports all of the open technologies vehemently and is really an advocate of open web standards for a long time.

    So open source is not so much a cliche, open web standards are!

  12. “On the whole, the open source options are safer, more up-to-date, faster, and more reliable. This is due to them being open. There are many people, all over the world working on these browsers to make them the best that they can be. This is not true with the closed source options as they don’t allow people other than a small group of individuals, to work on and contribute to the browser.”

    Being open source does not make something good, nor does being closed source make something bad. Correlation does not imply causation. I see that you incorrectly listed Opera as open source earlier. Freudian slip in regard to this line of argument? :P

    What is genuinely bad is pushing proprietary standards. From this angle I’d put IE (and anything using its engine) at the bottom of the list, followed by Safari (H.264 anyone?), and Chrome. Opera, Firefox, and most open-source browsers consequently end up at the top.

    I think I just eliminated just about all browsers on that list save for Opera, Firefox, K-Meleon and possibly Chrome, because most of them are nothing but IE-shells. I for one don’t think that choosing an IE shell instead of IE will help the web move forward, nor that avoiding Opera just because it’s closed source will do so.

  13. “On the whole, the open source options are safer, more up-to-date, faster, and more reliable. This is due to them being open.”

    Can you support this with actual facts? I highly doubt you can, since Opera has long been the most secure browser, and excepting only a brief period last year has always been much faster than Firefox (not to mention the smaller download, suggesting the closed system is much more efficient here than the disarray which made the feature poor Firefox a fatter download).

    And then there’re thw two ‘partly open’ browsers which just also happen to be much faster than Firefox.

    Bottom line, by all means promote Firefox, with features such as extensibility, a true boon for some (what is it, a third of its users?). And by all means point out that it’s a much safer browser than IE. But please stop short of lying openly.

  14. Opera supports open standards and open web (they pretty much have to to survive in Opera-ignorant web).

    Putting it in the same “completely closed” basket as IE is unfair.

  15. Opera built-in developer tools (aka Dragonfly) are open source http://my.opera.com/dragonfly/blog/opera-dragonfly-open-for-business, and there is more open source in there, too. Check opera:about. So that’s not really 0% open source. The rendering engine is definitely not open, though.

    By the way, open source software is not better than closed source one per se. I use an open source OS because it works better for me. I use a closed source browser because it works better for me.

  16. “By the way, open source software is not better than closed source one per se. I use an open source OS because it works better for me. I use a closed source browser because it works better for me.”

    Well said Joe.