It’s easy to overlook the differences between website browsers. There are hundreds of browser platforms and versions currently in use around the world, catering for divergent devices and innumerable operating systems. Some browsers have specific attributes intended to distinguish them from competitors, while others are open source. That means that anyone can modify core browser functionality, according to their personal preferences or requirements, but potentially affecting usability and compatibility.
A full list of modern web browsers would easily occupy the rest of this article, but these are some of the major platforms in use today:
- Chrome. Currently the world’s leading web browser, and the only option on cut-price Chromebooks.
- Edge. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer replacement has been designed for Windows 8 and 10.
- Safari. Apple’s in-house browser, and the default option on OS X or iOS-powered devices.
- Firefox. Mozilla has created the world’s most popular open-source browser, while Pale Moon is a Firefox spinoff.
- Opera. Norwegian firm Opera’s eponymous software also comes in Touch and Mini versions. Like Firefox, it’s compatible with Windows, OS X, and Linux machinery.
- Tor. The Onion Router was co-developed by the American military and randomly distributes data packets to prevent browser activity being traceable.
- SeaMonkey. A descendant of 1990s’ internet pioneer Netscape, SeaMonkey is another free, open-source platform.
- Internet Explorer. The last version was released six years ago, but Microsoft’s iconic IE still retains 7% of the US browser market.
Each browser has unique functionality and compatibility coded by its developers, which evolves as new versions are released. This programming determines how content is displayed, with subtly different interpretations applied to the same instructions. Version 3.9 of a particular browser might render video content in a manner unfamiliar to users of version 3.8, while operating system conflicts or screen resolution issues could also arise. Fonts are especially prone to inconsistent rendering, particularly if they’re proprietary or rarely used.
It’s impossible to calculate the number of hardware, software and web browser combinations in existence. As a consequence, website appearances may vary considerably from one end user to another. That poses a problem in terms of implementing a consistent website appearance, whether you’re a professional designer or a WordPress novice. Imagine if a font translation issue in Opera meant a caption overlapped the body text below it, or if Internet Explorer’s outdated coding prevented an MKV file from opening. Without sticking to fairly generic content and page layouts, it may not be possible to ensure every site visitor receives an equivalent experience.
Ways to standardize website appearance
There are several techniques any programmer or developer can harness to reduce the risk of website appearance being unduly affected by end-user software choices:
- Minimize forms. These are among the most volatile elements of web design since different browsers and operating systems interpret text boxes in divergent ways. The same is true of the buttons used to complete form fields.
- Avoid static dimensions. In today’s mobile-oriented age, few people would rigidly engineer a webpage for 1024×768 resolution. Setting a page’s width to 100% rather than a specific pixel number ought to ensure a more responsive web design.
- Use a test service. Sites like BrowserShots.org run a URL request through hundreds of browser platforms and versions, displaying thumbnail results. This flags up key appearance variations, though niche platforms might report error messages.
- Beta test on as many browsers as possible. Ask friends, colleagues and trusted associates to view a website on as many devices as possible prior to publishing. They might uncover issues on older Amazon Kindles, or new BlackBerry handsets.
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