Browser wars are here to stay – who will win this battle?

Last month has brought in new waves that will affect the future of browsers.

First, Opera announced dumping their original engine in favour of Webkit. Then we heard from Google about forking off from Webkit and calling the new baby Blink. And And there was an interestgin piece where Samsung and Mozilla decided to team up. To stir up the sauce even further – Opera announced that they will actually use Blink in the future. We think that these news mean that the new battle in Browser Wars will bring important changes to cross browser testing in general.

The Browser Wars revisited

The good old days of the Browser wars when Microsoft was battling Netscape come to mind. Looking back – all the battles in browser wars have had one thing in common. Usually there was a dominating browser, Netscape, Internet Explorer. The underdog had to come up with either new features or make use of the market dominance in other areas. When Netscape was bashed – Microsoft made use of the Windows dominance when it bundled IE together with Windows operating system. Later, when Firefox gained popularity – it was due to speed and novel features compared to Internet Explorer at the time.

What’s different now?

The playground now seems to be far more even than before and the war seems to be more about who controls the channels rather than the user. Most new browsers are in fact, indifferent from user perspective. Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are struggling to gather as much data on what their users are doing. Pushing out different devices is part of the game. Looking from the browser perspective – there are many contenders and no-one has a particular edge. Today’s market share is dominated by IE in the desktop, but Google when mobile and desktop market shares are combined.

The browsers are an important part in this game since most devices come with a pre-installed browser. So, the the browser actually will not matter – it’s part of the operating system. Ironic, considering that Microsoft once got huge fines fro bundling IE with Windows.

Who will win this round? My personal opinion which is based on gazing at the crystal ball is the following:

  1. Google is going to be the new Microsoft for the next couple of years. They are really committed and Android is getting to be more and more dominant.
  2. Microsoft will regain some market share. Their new browsers are just as snappy compared to competition and they’ve got a few things right in the mobile landscape.
  3. Apple will start losing market share but keep some mobile browser domination out of inertia. I hope I am wrong, but we have failed to see the Apple’s disruptiveness during the last few years.
  4. Mozilla will fade out, since they still haven’t got a sizeable platform nor partners to play on. I do not believe that FirefoxOS is going to change much during the next couple of years.

The newcomers will make some small ripples, but that’s the outlook for the coming couple of years. But the pull is on and the big fight is going to be between Google and the rest. And Google is clearly showing that it does not want to play with the community, but take the lead in developing rendering engines. We have seen this before – dominant player in the market trying to create a standard on the base of its own product. In short – there will be loads of browsers on the market, each supporting a different set of features in the web.

In short: It looks like Google will win this battle. But I believe it will not bring any relief to the developers nor users.

Cross browser testing

The developer perspective

The real loser in the browser wars has actually been the developer and coincidentally, the user. The wars have introduced a lot of browser-specific prefixes in CSS and behaviours in JavaScript. The lack of a well implemented uniform standard has lead to increased costs in testing and bug fixing. On the other side – there are even bigger costs associated with disgruntled users.

Right now, the pragmatic way out seems to be the following:

  1. Use standard libraries like jQuery and Bootstrap. Their developers are accounting for cross browser problems and do cross browser testing on their own.
  2. Test your website after every change – cross browser testing will not go anywhere.
  3. Test your website after every new browser revision comes out – new browser versions do break websites contrary to the common belief.
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