Web Browsers

Browsers are desktop software applications that allow you to browse the web and enjoy all of its infinite beauty.

Browsers are desktop software applications that allow you to browse the web and enjoy all of its infinite beauty.

Let’s take a few steps back, and think about what the web is really made of. We can all agree that the web is comprised of websites and social networks and video sharing sites and blogs and ecommerce destinations and some other miscellany, right? But what do all of those have in common? What are they all made of?

If you boil it down to its essence, the web is just a bunch of text, plus some photos, and a few videos, saved on different computers around the world, that you are able to access from your computer thanks to the Internet.

So let’s say that you want to look at a website that lives at www.skillcrush.com. Without a web browser, how do you get to it? You could fire up your command line and type into the prompt:

wget www.skillcrush.com

Which will download the index.html file to your home computer. You can then open that file and see all the website code, but you won’t be able to see what that website is supposed to look like.

What web browsers do is take code and represent that code as the aesthetically pleasing, navigable, animated, multimedia, interactive wonderland that good websites can be.

Web browsers come in all shapes and sizes: open source, proprietary, standard compliant, forward-thinking, and super-duper old and dysfunctional. About 85% of web browsing people use Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, but there are literally hundreds more out there if you want to go out digging.

Although the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets forth new browser guidelines, they aren’t actually able to enforce them. And since web browsers are made by different companies, or distributed open source teams, who all have different priorities, pet projects, or revenue goals, web browsers vary greatly and browsing the web can be quite different depending on what browser you pick.

So pick wisely!

Cocktail Party Fact

One of the biggest problems that web developers face is backwards browser compliance. Otherwise known as problems getting their super spiffy websites to work on old browsers.

It’s great that techies are always inventing cool new technologies but what do you do when someone is looking at your site using a browser so old it doesn’t know about cool new things like HTML5 video and CSS3 pseudo-selectors?

You write a big, fancy JavaScript library that translates all your new fangled HTML into something your antique browser can understand, of course! Modernizr.js is just that library, and it’s literally a life saver for any developer who has to worry about how their site looks in Internet Explorer 7 or (GASP!) Internet Explorer 6.

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  1. Dwain Turbes Replied

    “Usually I don’t read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice article.”

  2. stephenbooth Replied

    Backwards compatibility is something you do really need to consider, especially if your site is something you expect people to access from work. A lot of companies are still using Internet Explorer 6 as that is what their vertical applications (have you covered the difference between verical and horizontal applications yet?) are compatible with. Similarly they are often on old versions of the Operating Systems and office suites for compatibility reasons.

    Moving to the latest versions usually entails a lot of testing which takes time and money to do, so upgrades are often left as late as possible. Also it takes time and money to upgrade each desktop and laptop, especially if you have to do so in a co-ordinated way and have interim processes for the change over period. Not a lot if you’ve just got a few dozen on one or two offices to do, but when you’ve got thousands across many offices the costs rise. This can be very important to a developer of software used by large corporations. If moving to a later version means changes to the desktop, how are you going to handle the time when some users are still on the old version and you may need to support running the old and new versions in parrallel?

    For example where I work we’ve got about 20,000 deesktops and laptops spread across a couple of hundred offices, not counting home workers, running over 100 vertical applications. We’re currently in the process of moving from Windows XP to Windows 7. Testing alone has taken 2.5 years. We’re taking advantage of the upheaval to also move from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook 2010 as our email system and from Microsoft Office 2003 to Microsoft Office 2010, which added 6 months to the testing. We are having to run Lotus Noters and Exchange (for Outlook) in parrallel for about 6 months, run some vertical applications (which require IE 6 and won’t work with IE 8, the earliest version that will run under Windows 7) under Citrix and require that users of Microsoft Office 2010 save files in 97-2003 format until everyone has moved over. It’s a big job of work and had we switched to each new version of Windows as it came out we would have had to do it three times in the same period (2003->Vista->Windows7->Windows8).


    PS If Skillcrush haven’t covered the difference between Veritical and Horizontal applications, the short version is that Vertical applications tend to be used in just one function of the business for the processes of that function where as Horizontal tend to be used across the business. Examples of Verical applications would be the finance system, the order processing system and the HR-Payroll system. Examples of Horizontal applications would be the office suite, the email system and a web browser.

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