With the releases of betas of Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 8 as well as the recent release of Firefox 3, the pundits are all in a tizzy about the the new browser wars. I don't know if it is a war or not but I do like the fact that in the past few months we've seen clear proof that the end user experience when browsing the Web is going to get an upgrade for the majority of Web users.
Whenever there is such active competition between vendors, customers are typically the ones that benefit and the "new browser wars" are no different. Below are some of the features and trends in the new generation of browsers that has me excited about the future of the Web browsing user experience
One Process Per Tab
As seen in: IE 8 beta, Chrome
With this feature browsers are more resilient to crashes since each tab has its own process so a bug which would cause the entire browser to crash in an old school browser only causes the user to lose the tab in next generation browser. This feature is called Loosely Coupled IE (LCIE) in Internet Explorer 8 and described in the documentation of the Chrome Process Manager in the Google Chrome Comic Book.
This feature will be especially welcome for users of add-ons and browser toolbars since the IE team has found that up to 70% of browser crashes are caused by extensions and now these crashes will no longer take down the entire browser.
Smarter Address Bars
As seen in: IE 8 beta, Chrome, Firefox 3
Autocomplete in browser address bars has been improved. Instead of trying to match a user entered string as the start of a URL (e.g. "cn" autocompletes to http://cnn.com) newer browsers match any occurrence of the string in previously seen URLs and page titles (e.g. "cn" matches http://cnn.com, http://google.cn and a blog post on Wordpress with the title "I've stopped watching CNN"). Like Mark Pilgrim, I was originally suspicious of this feature but now cannot live without it.
This feature is called AwesomeBar in Firefox 3, OmniBox in Google Chrome and Smart Address Bar in IE 8.
Restoring Previous Browsing Sessions
As seen in: Firefox 3, Chrome, IE 8 beta
I love being able to close my browser and restart my operating system safe in the knowledge that whenever I launch the browser it is restored to exactly where I left off. Both Firefox and Chrome provide an option to make this behavior the default but the closest I've seen to getting a similar experience in the betas of IE 8 requires a click from the "about:Tabs" page. However given "about:Tabs" is my start page it gives maximum flexibility since I don't have to be slowed down by the opening up the four or five previously open browser tabs every time I launch my browser.
As seen in: IE 8 beta, Chrome, Firefox 3
In the old days, the only way to get search suggestions when typing a search query in your browser's search box was if you had a vendor specific search toolbar installed (e.g. Google Suggest for Firefox). It is becoming more commonplace for this to be native functionality of the Web browser. Google Chrome supports this if the default search provider is Google. IE 8 beta goes one better by making this feature a platform that any search engine can plug into and currently provides search suggestions for the following search providers; Wikipedia, Amazon, Google, Live Search and Yahoo! as at this writing.
Updated: Firefox has also supported search suggestions using a provider model since Firefox 2 via OpenSearch and ships with suggestions enabled for Google and Yahoo! by default.
As seen in: Chrome, IE 8 beta, Firefox 3
The WHAT WG created specifications which describes secure mechanisms for Web applications to store large amounts of user data on a local system using APIs provided by modern Web browsers. Applications can store megabytes of data on the user's local machine and have it accessible via the DOM. This feature was originally described in the Web Applications 1.0 specification and is typically called DOM Storage. You can read more about it in the Mozilla documentation for DOM Storage and the IE 8 beta documentation for DOM Storage. The related APIs are currently being defined as part of HTML 5.
Chrome supports this functionality by bundling Google Gears which is a Google defined set of APIs for providing offline storage.
The most interesting thing about this list is that if you follow the pronouncements from various pundits on sites like Techmeme, you'd think all of these features were originated by Google and appeared for the first time in Chrome.
Update: An amusing take on the pundit hype about Google Chrome from Ted Dziuba in The Register article Chrome-fed Googasm bares tech pundit futility
Now Playing: Metallica - Cyanide