The new browsers are out


I had fun* today. All the major browsers have just released or are just about to release new versions. I updated all of my favorites today -- Firefox 4, Internet Explorer 9, Opera 11. (Chrome 11 is available as a developer build, but I don't have time for my browser to crash, so I wait for final or release candidate builds before installing any new browser.) I was going to write something about each of them, but after a few minutes of using each one, it became quickly apparent that they're all basically the same to the average user. Just look at them...

I wonder if they're looking at their competitors when designing interfaces? "Somehow" all of them have gone to the exact same tab-on-top format where your open tabs are above the URL bar instead of below. Firefox and Opera have gotten rid of the traditional File, Edit, etc. menus and instead just put one button up in the top left that contains most of the settings. Google and IE went the same route, but their settings buttons are on the far right. Yes, it's blatant copying, but it's actually really nice. Experts have been saying for a while that it makes absolutely no sense that everyone has a widescreen monitor (maximizing your horizontal space) when almost everything on the web is vertically based, and I have to agree. How many of us really work on super-wide spreadsheets all day?

As web designers, we put a lot of effort into keeping content "above the fold" (an old newspaper term meaning to keep the most interesting, eye-catching content above the literal fold in the newspaper... on the web it's morphed into "what people can see without scrolling"). You want visitors to find what they need and get engaged without having to scroll down your home page. It's no secret that people have limited attention spans when it comes to the web... if your site doesn't have what people are looking for right up front, they'll just go to the next search result. But when the average monitor is at 1024x768 resolution, that means we only have 768 pixels of height to work with. Now add in the Windows taskbar at the bottom (there goes 40 pixels or more) and account for the browser window at the top (another 110 pixels), and also keep in mind that a lot of people have extra toolbars whether they want them or not, and you can only be sure of people seeing somewhere around 550 pixels. To put that in perspective, the thumbnail image above is 281 pixels high -- more than half the visible vertical space on a lot of people's computers.

Take a look at the difference between Internet Explorer 8 (on the left) and Internet Explorer 9 (on the right). Some users will have more or fewer browser toolbars, but the difference is clear:

IE8 and IE9 Comparison

So needless to say, we're all for the new updates. More vertical space means more space for us to create pretty web designs. And that's not nearly all the advantages of the new crop of browsers. We're also excited about HTML5 support, vastly improved JavaScript performance, some sort of adherence to web coding standards (we'll see if IE9 makes up its own formatting like IE8 and all its predecessors did), etc.

The new Internet Explorer will be coming to your computer automatically in a couple of days via Windows Update if you're on Windows Vista or Windows 7. It may take a little (or a lot) longer for people whose IT departments control computer updates. If you're allowed, install it manually or, better yet, install one of the other options.

NOTE: If you're running Windows XP, you cannot get Internet Explorer 9. Nobody has any idea why Microsoft did this. Conspiracy theorists say Microsoft wants to force people to upgrade to Windows 7. Microsoft says they can't do some of the advanced browser features on Windows XP. Regardless, my advice to everyone -- if you're running Windows XP, get Firefox, Chrome or Opera. You will wonder how you survived on IE8 for so long.

Browser downloads -- all links open in new windows:


* "Fun" to me and "fun" to you may be opposites.

Jeff Robertson

Jeff Robertson is a digital marketer and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is partner and Chief Technology Officer at Carbon8, where he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, as well as oversees technical infrastructure.

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