Browsers are getting better. Much better. The latest beta from Apple of Safari 4 shows just how much work is going in to making the modern browser fast, reliable, easy to use and standards compliant. Even Internet Explorer, while trailing the pack in terms of speed and compliance, is getting better. But is the new browser war a good thing for end users?
On the face of it that seems like a silly question. Of course it's good for users. As a result of the groping competition users end up with faster, more reliable, more secure, easier to use browsers. Even Internet Explorer, which was stagnant for years, has improved dramatically (but it still has a long way to go). That's gotta be a good thing, right?
Well, maybe not. While I'm happy to have several browsers installed on my system, and switch between the browsers depending on what I'm doing, this kind of behavior isn't for everyone. Putting aside the fact that installing multiple browsers on a system means that you have to keep them all patched up in order to prevent vulnerabilities from building up, you can only really have one default browser on a PC, and so switching between them is cumbersome. You either have to copy and paste URLs between the browsers, or continually switch the default browser setting. You also run into problems with favorites - importing favorites into a newly installed browser is one thing, keeping all the favorites synced up is another. As a user of multiple browser, I know just how much of a hassle it all it.
So, wile I like Opera, Google Chrome and the new Safari 4 beta (I feel pretty indifferent about Internet Explorer 8 beta so far), I still consider Firefox to be the primary replacement for Internet Explorer. The reason is simple - it's the most mature of the alternatives. While Chrome handles multiple tabs far better than Firefox, Opera has a built-in torrent capability, and Safari 4 is faster, but Firefox is a better all-rounder. not only that, but while Firefox remains the only browser that makes extensive use of add-ons, it'll continue to remain popular amongst geeks (oddly enough, I don't care much for the add-ons ... too much hassle come time to upgrade the browser).
In my opinion, the only real alternative to IE is Firefox. It's nice to have the other browsers (and on the Mac, an improved Safari is a good thing), but for now they're just minor players.
Do you think that the new browser war a good thing for end users?