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Types of Web Browsers

A web browser is an interface that helps a computer user gain access to all the content that is on the Internet and the hard disk of the computer. It can access web pages, images, text documents, audio and video files, games, etc. More than one web browser can be installed in the computer.
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All web browsers are application programs that are developed to access information on World Wide Web. Although the primary application of all the web browsers is the same, they differ from each other in more than one aspect. The distinguishing areas are:
  • Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac, BSD and other Unix
  • Protocols: FTP, SFTP, SAMBA, HTTP, IMAP, etc.
  • Graphical User Interface (GUI)
  • Layout Engine: Amaya, Gecko, Trident, KHTML, WebKit
  • Mobile Compatibility
  • HTML5 Support
  • Open Source
  • Proprietary
However, the general, primary and secondary features and facilities offered by web browsers include downloads, bookmarks, and password management. They also offer functions like spell checking, search engine toolbars, tabbed browsing, advertisement filtering, HTML access keys and pop-up blocking.

Internet Explorer

It was developed by Microsoft in 1994 and released in 1995 as a supportive package to Microsoft Windows line of operating systems. According to statistics, its usage share from 1999 to 2003-04 was around 95%. Microsoft occasionally releases updates for the previous versions of IE, which have some enhanced capabilities. IE has come up a preview release of Internet Explorer 10. The 'favicon', which is the short form of favorite icon, was introduced first in IE, and was later adopted by many other browsers. Initially, IE did not support tabbed browsing. But today, it can be used even in the older versions, by installing toolbars.

Features: There are regular Microsoft updates that IE supports. Favicon allows an image to be used as a bookmark. It supports Integrated Windows Authentication.

Mozilla Firefox

It is owned by Mozilla Corporation and was the result of an experimentation. 'Mozilla Firefox' was officially announced in February 2004. It was earlier named Phoenix, Firebird, and eventually Firefox. It is the second-most famous browser after Internet Explorer, as there were around 100 million downloads within a year of its release. Until November 2008, 700 million downloads were recorded. Since the release of Firefox, the sale of Internet Explorer has gone down drastically. It has around 22% of the market share at present. It has undergone many updates and version changes that were made to improve usability to the universal users.

Features: As it is an open source software, it allows everyone to access the code. It supports tabbed browsing that allows the user to open multiple sites in a single window. Session storage is also an important feature of Firefox, which allows the user to regain access to the open tabs after he has closed the browser window.

Safari

This is a web browser from Apple Inc., which is compatible with Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, and the iPhone OS. Safari was released by Apple in January 2003 as a public beta. If you need to fill an online form with your personal information, AutoFill is a feature that automatically does that for you, with the help of information that is stored in your address book or Outlook.

Features: The Safari 4 beta had many features like VoiceOver screen reader, that reads aloud everything that is on the screen, including text and web links. It also has features like CSS Canvas, LiveConnect, XML 1.0, and JavaScript support, and Cover Flow. 'Grammar Checking' is an interesting built-in feature, which performs a grammar check on the typed text and gives suggestions to correct your sentence if wrong. Also, there is a resizable web search box option available.

Opera

This browser was developed by Opera Software in 1996. It is a well-known browser that is mainly used in Internet-activated mobile phones, PDAs, and smartphones. Opera Mini and Opera Mobile are the browsers used in smartphones. It is compatible with many operating systems such as Solaris, Linux, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows. It is also compatible with Symbian and Windows Mobile operating systems for smartphones and PDAs. The company claims that Opera is the fastest browser in the world.

Features: It also has some common functions like zoom and fit-to-width, content blocking, tabs and sessions, download manager with BitTorrent, and mouse gestures.

Google Chrome

This web browser was developed by Google. Its beta and commercial versions were released in September 2008 for Microsoft Windows. The browser versions for Mac OS X are under development. The browser options are very similar to that of Safari, the settings locations are similar to Internet Explorer 7, and the window design is based on Windows Vista.

Features: The main standout feature is the malware and phishing warning that the browser suggests when the user wants to browse a site. Also, there is a user tracking option available with Chrome.

Netscape Navigator

It was developed by Netscape Communications Corporation and was most popular in the 1990s. Exceptional features were provided at the time of its release, which helped it to rise to fame with a market share of more than 50% in the 1990s. It was compatible with almost every operating system. Since 2002, it has almost disappeared from the market due to strong competition from rivals like Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, etc. It had undergone many version changes to maintain its stake in the market, none of which were very successful.

Features: Netscape Messenger is an email and news client for Netscape Navigator 9. Also, another feature is Netscape Publishing System that allows commercial sites to publish articles and charge users for accessing them.

Lynx

It was initially developed by Distributed Computing Group at University of Kansas only for using in the campus. However, with the addition of new protocols, the new version was launched on the Internet in 1992. A cross-platform browser that runs on Unix, VMS, DOS, Microsoft Windows, Mac Os, OS/2 and others. Lynx is a text based browser.

Features: Though being the oldest amongst the current lot of web browsers, it can be remotely accessed over Telnet and SSH. This feature enables Lynx to be used for testing a website's performance from any geographical location.

It has a wide base of visually impaired users due to "braille terminal" and "text-to-speech" interface.

OmniWeb

It was developed by The Omni Group and released in the year 1995. The browser is exclusively available for Apple's Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later versions, and it is a freeware. The latest version that is in the market is 5.5 that has a customized WebKit and a FTP folder display options.

Features: One of the features that this browser offers is the creation of Workspaces where one can store the personal browser history. It even gives freedom to share the same with other Omni users. The ad blocking feature even blocks images from the restricted sites.

Voyager

It is a web browser that is developed by VaporWare for Amiga computers. Its stable release was in the year 2000. It operates on AmigaOS and MorphOS.

Features: HTML 3.2, HTML 4, SSL, Flash and many other features are supported by this browser.

Konqueror

It is a KHTML based engine that was developed by KDE and initially released in 1996. It supports protocols like FTP, SFTP, SAMBA, HTTP, IMAP and others.

Features: The browser customizes the search and the user can get the website related data by just typing the keywords. The passwords and usernames are automatically stored in the Kwallet for future use. It will block all the ads and pop-ups, automatically!

iCab

It is developed by Alexander Clauss and its initial release was in the year 1999. The web browser is actively developed for 68k-based Macintoshes. The operating system that it works on is the Mac OS X.

Features: The features of the web browser include the filter manager. The user can filter the advertisements and videos; these can be easily blocked. There is a HTML validity checker that gives an error report if there are any issues with the HTML codes. The browser also has multiple language support. If there are any updates available for the sites that are bookmarked, the browser automatically updates the same.

Web

This browser was originally called "Epiphany" till its 3.4th version, which was released in March, 2012. The initial release was in the year 2003. It is specifically developed for the GNOME desktop by The GNOME Web Browser Developers. It supports Linux, BSD and Mac OS X. The browser is WebKit based and supports a part of HTML5 plus XHTML.

Features: There are a few extensions that come with the browser like Ad Blocker, Gestures (performs actions by mouse gestures) and many more.

Maxthon

It is developed by Maxthon International Limited for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and iOS along with Android for Maxthon mobiles. The browser is recently upgraded for 10 inch tablets in 2011. The latest Maxthon 3 version supports WebKit and Trident web engines.

Features: Its features include Ad Hunter (block ads, pop-ups), Adobe Flash and ActiveX blocker, customizable skins, partial GECKO support and many more.

Camino

Launched under the "The Camino Project" at Apple Inc., Camino's initial launch was in 2002. It is an open source and free web browser; specifically designed for Mac OS X. It is multilingual and supports HTML5. The browser is based on Gecko layout engine.

Features: Like any browser, this too supports ad and pop-up blocker. The standout feature from the other Mac based browsers is the Cocoa API which is a proprietary of Apple.

Avant Browser

It is developed by Avant Force with the initial launch in 2004. Avant is a free browser for Windows (2000, XP, 7, Vista). The browser can supports Gecko and WebKit based layout engines. The user is free to choose the layout engine of his choice.

Features: It is available in 41 languages and includes features like full screen mode, automatic page refresh, 21 skin options available, unwanted content blocking and many more.

Netsurf

Netsurf is developed by "The NetSurf Developers" with its stable release in 2012. It has its own layout engine and is built for AmigaOS, Atari OS, Mac OS X, RISC OS, Unix-like platforms and a few third party ports as well.

xombrero

It was originally called xxxterm and developed by Marco Peereboom. The browser's original launch was in May 2012 and the stable release was in September 2012. It is a WebKit based engine with no ad-blocking feature. It supports Windows and Unix-like systems.

A few browsers that were developed a few years ago have been discontinued due to many factors. Here's a list of such browsers.

» Mosaic: It is known as the first graphical web browser and was developed by National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in 1993. It was used for protocols like FTP, NNTP and Gopher and the platforms where it could be used were Windows, Unix and Amiga. It was later discontinued in 1997.

» Cello: It was the first web browser for Microsoft Windows that was developed by Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School in 1993. The browser was later discontinued in 1994.

» Arena: Authored by Dave Raggett in C language, Arena was released in 1995 for Unix. It supported HTML3; HTTP, PNG, JPG, FTP, NNTP, Gopher and others. However, it was later discontinued in 1998.

» IBM WebExplorer: IT was developed by IBM in 1995. The operating system that it supported was OS/2. The browser supported HTML 3.0, GIF, etc.

» SlipKnot: It was developed by MicroMind, Inc. in the year 1994 for Microsoft Windows. The code was written in C. The browser was named so, because it did not need a SLIP or TCP/IP connection to view graphical content. In June, 2000, MicroMind Inc. homepage declared that SlipKnot was no longer supported by them.

» iBrowse: Initially released in 1996, it was the browser for Amico Computer. It supports HTML4, JAVA and SSL. It is a MUI (can generate GUI) based browser. However, since 2007, it is not available for purchase.

» Agora: Developed by World Wide Web Consortium, it was an email based browser. For people to use the browser, it had to be first downloaded in the server and then the URL had to be sent to Agora for confirmation. The browser would confirm the request with an approved link via email. It was discontinued in 1997.

» Oracle PowerBrowser: This was developed by Oracle Corporation in the year 1996. The browser had the feature that allowed users to host web pages on their own computers. It was, however, discontinued later on.

» Galeon: This web browser was released in the year 2000 and was developed by Marco Pesenti Gritti. Galeon was a Gecko (layout engine) based browser and it incorporated a lot of Gecko's features like customizable toolbars, page zooming, etc. Developed for Unix-like operating systems, the browser was discontinued in 2008.

» Shiira: This browser was initially released in 2004 for Mac OS X operating system. It was a WebKit based browser and the main goal of its launch was to create a browser that was better than Safari. It was discontinued in 2009.

Over the years, there are a few browsers that are developed to browse specific sites. They are:

Browser Used for
Gollum Browser Wikipedia
Image Explorer View, edit images
Flock Social networking sites

Although there are many web browsers available and many more are likely to arrive in future, only those which are truly exciting and user-friendly will be able to survive market competition and hold on to a substantial market share.
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Last Updated: October 20, 2012
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I wanted to learn specific terms such as "webkit", and I wanted to know more of the differences between the browsers, such as when you make type larger does it also magnify images and everything else (yes with Safari but only html text with Firefox). What about compatibility with shipping services such as USPS, FedEx and UPS; compatibility with US Govt. websites? More info about blocking pop-up windows (do they prevent "pop-unders", do they inform you, do they prevent opening new windows?), bookmarks features (example: Safari catalogs them in descending chronological order, Firefox in ascending order). And more, like available search engines, history access convenience, restoring last window after crash, etc. I see there's lots more info in the "Related Articles" section below. - John Gaylord [November 15, 2010]
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