Over the last year, I have mostly been doing support for web based applications. It certainly has been a big change from having to support general Windows and Citrix users. The most obvious thing that struck me about web applications is the large number of problems that users encounter that are simply due to their browser. I quickly learned that there is no perfect browser, and at times there is not even one that works! By this time I have heard all the comments.

There is the adamant user who thinks the world belongs to IE6 and that “industry standard” is a synonym for Windows IE6. While IE6 is not the worst browser on the planet, it is prone to lots and lots of problems, in general everyone has a problem with IE6. Web designers hate it, cause of the CSS bugs that they have had to code for it. End users hate it because IE6 is usually so locked down by network administrators that it is practically worthless for running anything complicated at times. IT admins hate it because they have to lock it down or else all their users will install spamware toolbars and create more problems. Support people hate it cause they have to spend all day, trying to figure out how to disable pop-up blockers, reset security zones to their default level, and of course the old stand-by: deleting temporary internet files.

Then there is IE7, the better cousin of IE6. Except that IE7 has a new fangled interface and very little in real features or improvements. Then there is that whole thing about many sites not even supporting it officially. In other words, IE7 is a big disappointment, in that it has almost all the same problems as IE6.

Now as to the Firefox lovers out there, let me just say that Firefox is one inconsistent browser. It is harder to support, because there is no target version out there as of today, that I can point to and say it is the standard for Firefox. On average I encounter the 1.5 version of Firefox every day! I would even say, that it is more popular than even the 2.0 version! Just yesterday, I encountered 1.0 Firefox running on a Macintosh! While I like the CSS rendering, and love the expandability of Firefox, I also cannot count on any consistency with Firefox. On average I see problems with Firefox acting differently than IE when it goes through a proxy and running scripts. Common Firefox extensions like AdBlock cause tons of support problems, and did I mention that Firefox seriously lags on the Macintosh platform.

Last but not least is Safari, the up and coming star of the Internet. Safari has doubled its usage and if Apple strikes gold with their Apple iPhone, then Safari usage is sure to go higher. The more you think about it, the more you realize that Apple really needs to deliver a Windows version of Safari. It only makes sense to have Safari compete on Windows. Unlike IE6 it has a nice interface design and is simple to use. Apple has ignored add-ons and stuck with a slimmed down browser, while Firefox has somewhat embraced more bloat features with the 2.0 and future 3.0 versions. In general Safari does work well on the Macintosh platform. I can think of only two glaring problems, its CSS rendering does not work very well for sites that only test IE6 compatibility, and it does somewhat slowdown if you do not clean out favicons and pre-fill form data. Making the leap to Windows though would be hard, Apple would have to most likely use SUN’s JAVA run-time on Windows, and utilize more of the Windows operating system. These are all challenges that Mozilla has tackled and done so only much trial and error.

In conclusion, all browsers have inherent problems. Depending on your view, you can find glaring issues for any of the top browsers. According to my own Mint stats for WebKeyDesign.com, most of my site visitors use Firefox and IE, with Safari running a distant third. My personal favorites though would have to be Safari on OS X and Firefox 2.0 on Windows, and even then I find myself having to customize and hack both heavily before I am even comfortable using them. After all who would use Safari without a Tab button (in the toolbar)?