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We know all too well about the browser wars, don’t we? Firefox is better at this, Chrome is better at that and so on. While it’s great that we have all this competition going on right now about which browser is ultimately the best, I’ve been thinking recently about whether all of this will exist in the future.

Right now browsers are trying to improve everything about them – their speed, their looks, their standards support, and their feature set. Aside from the looks which can always be improved, everything else has a set limit or “end”, and eventually all browsers will reach that point. In fact, some signs are evident right now.

Web Standards

Standards support has once again been a big deal lately, more in fact than it has been in the past since the rise of Firefox. Thanks to HTML5, browsers are scrambling to gain support for all the new technologies. While not all browsers are on an identical level of support for HTML5, the playing field is still surprisingly level. Eventually, the HTML5 specification will be complete, and all the browsers will have full support for it. At that point, all browsers will be the same in that regard.

Extensions

Extensions is another important feature that has come into most browsers. It first started with Firefox, then Chrome came out with extensions, and more recently Opera added them as well. While Chrome and Opera‘s extension APIs are relatively limited compared to Firefox for now, they will eventually become as advanced as Firefox’s and then all extensions will spread to all browsers that support extensions. When all extensions are available for all browsers (as they would probably try to do in order to get the most users), it makes each browser less unique.

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Other Features

Finally, other features that come out with one browser will be duplicated by others at one point or another. For example, Opera first came out with tabbed browsing, which was picked up by Firefox and finally Internet Explorer. Firefox’s “big orange button” that pops out the menu is eerily similar to Opera’s red menu button. Internet Explorer first came out with hardware acceleration for graphics, and now Firefox, Chrome, and Opera (soon) have an implementation of it as well. No matter what might be released by one browser, it will be implemented by the others if it is good enough.

Conclusion

Really, the only way browsers can separate themselves in the future is by their user interface. From a technical standpoint, however, they will all be virtually identical, and support all possible technologies found on the web. With that, it won’t matter what browser you use as you’ll be able to do whatever you want with any of them, and it’ll just come down to which one you support more or which one looks the prettiest.

What’s your take on the matter? Do you think browsers will become almost identical or will their paths spread apart greatly? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Shutterstock

  1. Jack Cola
    January 29, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I wonder if Apple's web Browser Safari came out first with tabbed browsing, hardware acceleration and extensions etc, I wonder if they would put patents on everything and sue Mozilla, Opera and IE like Apple is doing with their iPhones/iPads. Apple is happy to copy others, but won't allow others to copy them.

    • Danny Stieben
      February 2, 2012 at 9:11 pm

      Hah! Imagine the world if that would've been the case. Thank goodness that all those features you mentioned originated from other browsers.

  2. James Bruce
    January 17, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Sorry, but browsers do not "vacuum up your personal info" to sell to corporations. Search engines may do, but browsers do not. 
    (Duckduckgo is a search engine, not a browser, btw)

  3. Imota Dinaroid
    January 17, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Even if Google programmers  make Chrome sing Alleluia, I wouldn't use it.  I am too dependent on Google services anyway.  In fact, my primary browser is Firefox .  However, I occasionally use other browsers as well. Thanks to  Firefox  extension "OpenWith" I am able to open any web page at any time using any of FIVE installed browsers (Firefox, Opera, IE, Chrome,  Maxthon).  Advantages? Well, they are obvious. For example, my current Firefox  (Aurora) is  in an experimental phase - the most advanced Firefox so far. Since it's  still in development, some of my favorite Firefox extensions are missing. One of them is Evernote. However, having four browsers within Firefox (four buttons neatly grouped together)  solves the problem easily. Just click on the Chrome button and you will instantly get  Evernote. Following this logic, I am able to use all extensions of all browsers at any time, even if they are not present in Firefox.
    Conclusion: Down with separation! Long live amalgemation!
    And Firefox rules.

    • Danny Stieben
      January 27, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      That's an interesting extension, Imota!

  4. Ed Menje
    January 17, 2012 at 1:01 am

    "No matter what might be released by one browser, it will be implemented by the others if it is good enough."

    Opera introduced, not only tabs, but the ability to tile or cascade those windows and create a follower tab where links clicked in one tiled tab can open in the other. This ability was available in the first version of Opera I used (3.x back in the '90s) and STILL no other browser has included these features. This is one of the main reasons I still use Opera as my main browser. When will FF, Chrome or IE get around to these features? Probably never.

    • Danny Stieben
      January 27, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      Hmm I need to try that feature out myself.

  5. Nicholas Webster
    January 17, 2012 at 12:23 am

    All that matters to me is speed and chrome is fastest so until FF is even or faster then chrome I'm not moving.

  6. Adam
    January 16, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I agree to a degree and disagree also. I would have preferred if you went into more detail to convince me. I've a small things that challenge the idea:"Features that come out with one browser will be duplicated by others at one point or another" almost implies they will always be different, right?Also they will never be identical with regards speed. Browsers have been, are and will be a way to gravitate people towards the company's own OS. Google Chrome (browser) will be have more and more Google+ features naively also. Also, more and more users are becoming aware of monopolies which in itself may sway people to/fro. Another users will become more curious about is whether what they view is being logged back to a server. 

  7. Dave Parrack
    January 16, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    I kind of agree that under the hood most mainstream browsers are becoming homogeneous. However, each still has very different UIs and are better at some things than others. Which means there is still a choice to make depending on individual tastes and needs.

    I do agree with Joel though that with the Internet still being young this situation could change very quickly.

    • Danny Stieben
      January 27, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      I guess that's true. The Internet is still "young", even though it's older than I am. :)

      • Dave Parrack
        January 28, 2012 at 8:02 pm

        In its mainstream form it's still just a baby. It makes me feel old that I remember a time when the Web was used by just a dozen geeks at CERN.

  8. hotpepper
    January 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    You get the big orange button in Firefox, if you are not showing the menu bar.
    Just the mere fact that Microsoft has chosen not to be HTML standards compliant in Outlook, show that they are on a different path. Yes, it would be nice if all the browsers and all programs that support HTML would comply to ALL the standards, and were updated in time to utilize new standards as they developed, it seems to me that if that were the goal, it would've happened repeatedly by now.

    • James Bruce
      January 17, 2012 at 10:03 am

      Hmm, I just disabled all the menu bars and still dont see a big orange button. Perhaps this is a windows only thing. 

      • Danny Stieben
        January 27, 2012 at 9:15 pm

        I believe it is. It appears in Linux too, but it's not orange there.

  9. Stefan Jäger
    January 16, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    speed matters. And in this case, browser are different.

  10. HPearce
    January 16, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Opera still has menus/toolbars/etc based upon an INI file system that can be used to customize the browser in ways other browsers lack.

    My nature tells me companies will always find a way to distinguish their browsers from others that users will take advanatge of ... those that are good at this will survive. 

    Your commentary also seems to rely somewhat on what browsers currently can do and overlooks the possibility of new enhancements not yet realized.

    • Danny Stieben
      January 27, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      Hopefully that will be the case.

  11. Joel Lee
    January 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    "With that, it won’t matter what browser you use as you’ll be able to do
    whatever you want with any of them, and it’ll just come down to which
    one you support more or which one looks the prettiest."

    I think this statement alone proves that not all browsers will be the same. A slight or subtle difference is still a difference, and small details can have large impacts.

    Plus, browsers will ALWAYS strive to differentiate themselves. If you'd written this article back in the '90s, you might've said that all browsers would just become clones of IE. Little did you know that Opera would innovate with tabs, Firefox would innovate with extensions, Chrome would innovate with separate processes, etc.

    No, I don't think browsers will become homogenized. There's still far too much room for innovation, as the Internet is still relatively young.

    • James Bruce
      January 16, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Exactly. 

      Danny, you couldn't be more wrong when you say "there is an end point" for browsers. That's incredibly shortsighted, and assumes that web technologies will be no longer innovate from now on. You really think HTML5 is the be all and end all of web standards? I could just as easily making a sweeping and silly statement about OSes, but I won't. 

      Also, I'm running 3 browsers here (inc firefox), and none of them have this "big orange button" you're referring to. Is that some kind of Windows thing?

      Choice of browser is actually very often not about interface, but rather speed and security - hence why Chrome is still winning. 

      • Miggs
        January 16, 2012 at 7:19 pm

        Subscribe to this idea.

        Practically, there's no end for innovation. Apps greatly rely on hardware, so as hardware gets better, apps will get better too. 

      • Danny Stieben
        January 17, 2012 at 5:12 am

        I might've worded that a little incorrectly. What I meant to say was that they'll all catch up to each other once new standards come out.

        Not that new stuff will cease to come out, but major improvements such as HTML5 won't constantly roll out. I'd expect there to be a time between iterations of HTML where it's quieter, such as between HTML4 and HTML5.

        As for things such as speed, eventually they will be so developed that you can't really tell the difference. That comes from a combination of improved JavaScript and general rendering engines as well as improved hardware. Those are what I meant as in limits and endpoints for browsers. Eventually it won't matter if it takes 1ms or 2ms to load a page. Even if it's twice as fast in that case, can you notice the difference?

        • Chris Hoffman
          January 17, 2012 at 8:12 am

          I'm not totally convinced that all standards will eventually merge to that degree.

          For example, Google has Native Client in Chrome, and plans to integrate Dash into Chrome, too -- web apps written in those languages will only work in Chrome.

          Internet Explorer doesn't support WebGL, so WebGL apps won't work in Internet Explorer.

          Also, there's the great divide between MP4 and OGG/WebM with HTML5 video.

          So there's some divergence going on, even at the moment.

        • James Bruce
          January 17, 2012 at 10:03 am

          You're still wrong, wrong, wrong! 

          Browsers never catch up when new standards come up. And there are ALWAYS new bits of a standard that are constantly being updated. HTML is not the only "web standard" around, and HTML5 isnt even an actual thing - it's just an amalgamation of various technologies given a buzzword name. CSS3 is constantly evolving new techniques, HTML Canvas and 3D standards are still incredibly new, jQuery gets more amazing all the time.  

          And speeds vary greatly, and always will, especially when it comes to radical new web technologies.

          You're still assuming the web will be the same in 5 years time as it is today - essentially static pages of text! Well, that's shortsighted and you should know better. The web is becoming increasingly an OS of it's own, and that's a whole new card on the table to deal with. 3D browser games san-Flash, complete operating systems streeaming natively over HTTP…. 

          Browsers may well become so efficient at rendering javascript and HTML that there's only 1ms difference between them - but the web tomorrow will be so much more than simple HTML and javascript. 

        • Danny Stieben
          January 27, 2012 at 9:09 pm

          Hmm point taken.

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