Once upon a time there was a browser named Firefox -- an open source project that many people happily picked up and spun off into their own versions with names like Iceweasel and Pale Moon. Now the same thing has happened with Google Chrome. Its open source incarnation, Chromium, has become the basis for a slew of spinoffs, remixes, and alternative versions.
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Naturally, a variant version of a browser needs to be broadly compatible with the original to be useful, but at the same time have enough new features or enhanced functionality to be a compelling alternative. Just as a remix of a song combines something from the original with something new, Chrome spinoffs inherit Chrome's speed and rendering prowess while striking off in new direction Now that the room is cleared of the drones who go through life happy to use whichever browser their fellow drones in the IT support staff installed in their computer, it's time to look once again at the browsers and think about what makes them better. What? You did that several months ago? You're thinking, "How much could they really have changed?" Do I need to go back to channeling David Mamet?
The browser world is taking Ezra Pound's command to make it new to extreme lengths, and much has changed since I started writing this sentence. Why, just a few moments ago, Firefox and Chrome both dropped their late morning builds, and the programmers at Microsoft are heading off to teatime, so they've pushed their latest versions. New versions are appearing every several weeks, and they often include substantial new features, such as better fonts, new video codecs, more sophisticated privacy switches, better local storage, and more. It's not a question of whether you're using your grandfather's browser or even your father's browser. Now you can come back from lunch and lock up your brain wondering whether you can make it through the afternoon with the browser you installed this morning.
Before the picture changes again, here's a survey of the five major browsers -- Opera, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and IE -- and how they are performing right now. All of them are excellent tools written by driven programmers who see themselves locked in a battle for the future of humanity, which it is if you forget all of the physical objects that occupy those other moments when we're not checking our email or browsing a new site.
The list of changes and improvements is so long that this article can't begin to mention everything. I've tried to hit a few of the most important points.
Battle of the Web browsers: HTML5
All of the energy devoted to HTML5 has been one of the top drivers of the increased pace. While people have been talking about the new standard for 10 or so years, it only became an obsession in the last few. All of the press releases trumpeting new versions of browsers invariably mention the numerous new features from the HTML5 standard.
Does this matter to the average user? Not yet. Most websites don't use any of the new features today, but this is gradually changing as Web developers start to take note. Google is pushing Web apps through the Chrome Web store and clearly sees HTML5 apps as a big part of the software ecology.