Most IT pros hopelessly overestimate the importance of browser features. In the sense Carr doubted that IT matters, I question that browsers matter.

A new browser war is going on and I like it! Progress is everything for me. There is no doubt that the web browser is the second most important application on my computer. Since I use it all day, even slight improvements can make a big difference. A big difference for me and probably also for you. I discussed Internet Explorer 9 in detail because I know that it is an interesting topic for many IT pros. However, it appears to me that many people hopelessly overestimate the importance of web browser features for average users. This is why I couldn't help myself from writing another somewhat ironic post as a counter balance.

The truth is that the vast majority of users don’t really care about what browser they are using. They want to be able to load websites and they also find it quite useful that they can click links. Those who still access sites other than Facebook might like the bookmark feature, but I think this already covers all the relevant features most users expect from a web browser.

The fierce discussion about the coolest and fastest browser is only of interest for IT pros, bloggers, and journalists. This distorts the picture of the importance of browser features because these are the guys who rule the web. Even though almost every adult in the developed world uses a web browser regularly, most don't really consider browser features as something worth discussing. Try it! Ask any non-geek about important browser features and you will see that he or she will have problems naming a fourth function.

You might object that my analysis doesn't explain why Internet Explorer lost significant market shares lately. If people don't care about which browser they are using, why should they waste time downloading and installing a browser other than the one that already comes with Windows?

Well, what about those users in your organization or among your friends who don't use the pre-installed browser? Wasn't it you who recommended, or perhaps I should say forced them to use, another browser?

It usually goes like this:

Geek: Huh? You are still using Internet Explorer 6? You can't be serious. Don't you know that this browser is absolutely insecure, not open standard compliant, and, and, and… well, it is from Microsoft.

User: Um, Internet Explorer? You mean my web browser?

Geek: Oh, my! Wait, I’ll install Firefox for you.

User: Oh, that is nice of you. I like the logo.

Years later, geek and user meet again.

Geek: Hey, are you still using Firefox? You can't be serious.

User: The browser, you mean? Sure, you said it is the best.

Geek: Well, that was ages ago. Wait, I’ll install Internet Explorer 9 for you.

User: That is so kind of you, but I liked the other logo better.

Geek: IE9 is lightning fast; you will see.

User: Really? You mean I can now upload pictures faster to Facebook?

Geek: (sighs) No! But didn't you notice that Facebook loaded much faster?

User: Hmm, no. Can we try again?

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Update:@alexverboon tweeted this funny video:  Just proves my point, especially 1:25

6 Comments
  1. Wolfgang Sommergut 12 years ago

    Replace every occurance of “Browser” with “Operating System”. Every point you made would still be true.

  2. Michael Pietroforte 12 years ago

    Good point! But isn’t a browser also a operating system?

  3. Lenix 12 years ago

    “Good point! But isn’t a browser also a operating system?”
    If not, its definitely becoming one! And im not looking forward to that.

  4. Michael Pietroforte 12 years ago

    It is a matter of definition. The question is whether the only task of an operating system is to run applications or also to manage hardware. But from a user’s point of view the main difference between operating systems is what kind of applications you can run. And since all browsers are now open standard compliant there is no more real difference between browsers from a user’s point of view. However, this difference still persists between conventional operating systems. On a Mac you can still only run a fraction of the applications that are available for Windows. Thus conventional operating systems still matter whereas browsers don’t. (“Matter” in the sense Carr uses the term.)

  5. Wolfgang Sommergut 12 years ago

    I wouldn’t call browsers operating systems, but certainly they are platforms. So one major difference between browsers is the number and quality of plugins available for them.

    On the other hand, it looks like a growing number of opating systems don’t manage real hardware anymore, because they run in a VM. So it looks like browsers are becoming OSes, and OSes are reduced to run apps, thus becoming mere browsers 🙂

  6. Kent 12 years ago

    Haha…nice conversation you concluded in the post, which is quite true. I have somehow stopped asking people to switch a browser or installing a browser for them. The only time I do that is when IE stopped working, which happened rarely anyway.

    Cheers.

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