Battle of the Web browsers

Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari square off on speed, features, and HTML5 compatibility

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Battle of the Web browsers: Video and audio
In theory, the browsers all do a great job of embracing the new video tag. In practice, issues of patents and perhaps even pride seem to be creating incompatibilities beneath the surface. Everyone supports a different subset of the four common standards, but no standard has become dominant yet. Safari and IE do not support Ogg Theora or WebM, for example; Chrome doesn't support MPEG-4. All of these details create news as people debate the right plan for the Web.

I'm not sure how much this matters to the average person. The Theora website, for instance, includes a list of sample videos, and I was able to play some of them with Safari or IE. Why? The video's host, Blip.tv, gracefully switched to a different format, and I sailed on unaware.

This may not be much of a problem for the average website developer either because many don't bother trying to stream video. If Microsoft is happy to plop videos on YouTube instead of hosting the bits themselves, then there may not be any reason for the rest of us to host the video either. Let's just upload it to a free video streaming site that covers the bandwidth costs. How long will Google continue to pay for everyone's video bandwidth? I can't be sure, but it also means that most people don't spend much time worrying about these standards. If these free hosts disappear, the landscape will change quickly.

Video and audio formats supported

 H.264/MPEG-4Ogg Theora/
Ogg Vorbis
VP8/WebM
Chrome 10.0NoYesYes
Firefox 4.0NoYesYes
Internet Explorer 9.0YesNoNo
Safari 5.0YesNoNo
Opera 11.10NoYesYes

Battle of the Web browsers: Plug-ins and extensions
The browsers' plug-ins and extensions continue to be important criteria for many of the serious users. People have their own favorites, and they often choose their browser for the plug-ins.

Firefox continues to have the most extreme API that allows a number of different types of extensions and plug-ins, and many of these come with their own sub-extensions. Firebug, for instance, has its own ecosystem complete with both browser and server-side plug-ins for debugging Web applications. Greasemonkey makes it simpler for people to write a bit of JavaScript to create a plug-in, and these Greasemonkey scripts trade online. Both remain reasons why I instinctively turn to Firefox.

The other browsers don't offer the same sophistication as Firefox, but they come through with what most people will want: a way to bundle together some JavaScript, CSS, and HTML to do the job. This formula handles most of what anyone would want to do, and it's why the majority of the major extensions are available for all of the high-profile browsers. Once you write the JavaScript, porting between browsers is relatively simple.

This has made it simpler for Chrome and Safari to catch up quickly with Firefox. Safari has a similar API to Chrome, which has helped clear the way for extension creators to port their work from Chrome to the Apple browser. Opera now is pushing a similar JavaScript-based plug-in framework, and I expect it will be an attractive target for extension developers too.

IE continues to be a challenge for JavaScript developers and an opportunity for those who know C++ and ActiveX. This may not matter much in the future because Microsoft is pushing pure HTML5 development more and more. IE9 has new ways to "pin" websites (that is, attach them to the Windows Taskbar or Start menu or wherever), and I expect these may begin to take the place of extensions in the future. In a way, they're almost like plug-ins.

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