Top dog

"This page doesn't work on my computer". Quite often this is type of email I get from users trying to view a newly published page on our website. But of course, what I need to understand is the operating system and browser. Otherwise, how can I effectively diagnose the issue? And of course, then there's the added complications of the user's own browser settings. It's like trying to diagnose a patient without them in front of you.

There are loads of tools out there to assist with this and one which I've found particularly useful as a Chrome user is the 'Browserling' plugin. This is particularly useful when testing website compatibility with the dreaded Microsoft Edge! In fact, we're currently approaching a situation where there are likely to be less browser choices than ever given Microsoft's announcement that Edge is to soon be discontinued.

After 3 years Edge was doomed to failure. Despite being championed by a company who still have the desktop market share it's used by only about 2% of the internet community. This is chiefly down to it not adequately replacing Internet Explorer. I've never liked IE myself - it's caused me more problems than solutions but it's impossible to deny that for many people the 'Blue E' IS the Internet. It's the icon you click to go online but Microsoft themselves never gave any guidance about how to transition.

Then for users who are more aware of what a web browser is there was no sales pitch on why it might be better than Firefox or Chrome. If your current browser works for your needs why would you bother going to the effort of switching? Some people may not even know that Edge was even a thing! And finally, and as referenced above, for us web professionals it was just another mouth to feed - another browser in which your website rendered differently and demanded fixing...

With mobile devices now being the main way that people consume the internet, a browser that only worked on desktop could never compete with the mighty Google Chrome. By default if you purchase an Android phone or a Chromebook you've already made your browser choice. Google own the world's most important web services (whereas Microsoft own none). Search, Home, Maps, YouTube are all so good they ensure you use their interfaces in as many ways as possible. I'm writing this on my trusty Chromebook now. They push you towards their products at every opportunity meaning Edge was always doomed to failure.

So what does this leave us with? As well as Internet Explorer and Chrome there are a few other significant players such as Safari or Opera. But my old favourite was trusty Firefox. I always saw this as the most robust and reliable and it had the best logo and developer tools (like Firebug).

As I learnt more about them as a company I wanted to support them even more. They are a truly independent browser with superior, human values compared to the rest. But things are not looking good for them either largely because of similar reasons to the above. For example, as anyone reading this ever used Firefox on a mobile device? I haven't except to emulate it for browser testing. Mobile usage is essential for any browser to properly survive.

Even it's market share on desktop is now dropping off. Ever since I bought a Chromebook there's no longer a reason for me to use it. The amount of plugins in Chrome now dwarf those of Firefox. With our new website Firefox was at the bottom of the pile when we undertook our internal browser testing. This would never have happened 5 years ago, it would have been too risky, but now no-one cares.

If Firefox goes the same way as Edge it will be a real shame. They're trying to go down fighting (by making many technical improvements and championing privacy) but ultimately what people care about most is convenience. So, if your device comes with a decent browser pre-installed why would you go searching for another one.

So despite this grim outlook it does mean potentially an easier workflow of testing for people who build for the web. The web has always evolved so there's no reason why any of these browsers may not resurface at some point. It's tough at the top. I'd love to see my old friend Netscape Navigator from the late 1990's return rejuvenated to take Chrome's crown!
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