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: Developer tools
In the beginning, there were a few proprietary JavaScript debuggers for IE, then Firebug came along and changed the game for everyone. Google bundled a great debugger with Chrome when it launched, and Apple did the same with Safari. Now Microsoft is calling its version F12.

For most intents and purposes, the tools are pretty much the same now. Most of them make it easy to insert break points and track network traffic. Exceptions are reported and it's possible to dig into the data structures to figure out what is going wrong with the site. My favorite feature is the "inspect element" that lets you point to a segment of a page, then go to the part of the markup that generates it. This is fairly standard now.

There are still some differentiators. Opera offers a unique tool for remotely debugging websites on smartphones running Opera Mobile or Opera Mini. A number of cool Firebug extensions for Firefox also bring down even more information to help debugging. Drupal for Firebug, for instance, connects with the server to suck down additional data about the server.

Battle of the Web browsers: Security
The level of trust we can put in the information in our browser continues to ebb and flow as the weasels in the shadows come up with schemes to separate us from our money. Opera has enhanced the information in its URL field by deleting some of the data. The core domain is easier to understand, but the weasels have figured out ways to hide the domain in a sea of weird characters. Opera strips these out and adds extra information about reported security violations. Microsoft is following the same path to try to cut down on social engineering.

Firefox is taking the lead on implementing a "do not track" feature that sends a request to the Web server not to follow the behavior of the user. This is completely optional for the Web server, of course, but some companies, including the Associated Press, are pledging to honor the requests.

There's also some debate over how the browser should handle misconfigured or invalid certificates used for SSL encryption. Some websites don't want to pay the extra costs of renewing them. Others install them incorrectly. The problem is common enough that most people assume the website developer is incompetent, not malicious. Chrome is careful and alerts you to the problems with great urgency, but it can get tedious. Some people complain that Chrome is too doctrinaire and demanding because Firefox lets you get rid of the warnings with one click. Other users will like Chrome's attention to detail.

Website security is bound to grow more complicated. Recent reports showed how hackers could get valid certificates for domains like google.com from the apparently more casual services in countries like Iran. All of the assurances that these new browser features provide can't begin to deal with such weaknesses.

Battle of the Web browsers: Wacko features
The browser builders continue to look for new features to attract users; some of these are worth noting and perhaps even switching allegiances for. Opera has always been ahead of many of the trends, and it continues to innovate. The tabs for open Web pages at the top of the box are now a bit easier to organize because you can stack them together. Just as a city starts building up when it can't build out, you can start piling up similar Web pages and come back to them.

Opera is also building in mail, a feature that was once bundled with the browser in the Mozilla stack. I personally think that the death of email is an overblown story, and many users will like the fact that their browser is watching for new messages.

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