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.

Search Suggestions

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.

Offline Support

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


 

Monday, September 8, 2008 5:43:51 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
re: Search Suggestions. The closest thing that existed before was parsing a search response in Atom format live in your browser. It was a search result, not a suggestion, and so a different and more explicit definition was needed for IE. Sometimes there are so many uses for existing technology you just want to specify one particular purpose for your users.
Monday, September 8, 2008 5:58:56 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Firefox has had search suggestions since Firefox 2 (in the search box, not the location bar).
Monday, September 8, 2008 6:09:14 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Interesting, have only tried IE8 and Chrome on an ancient test box to see if my blog worked OK, it did, but found IE8 the better experience. Since most my "browsing" is in RSS Bandit don't find the stand-alone browser gets that much use!
Monday, September 8, 2008 11:37:31 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Been using IE8 beta2 since it was released recently and have taken chrome for a test drive. I found I was underwhelmed by chrome, but loving IE8. Having to keep reminding myself that it is still a beta, it runs so well, I have had no problems and going back to IE7 makes me angry. Good to see you listening to some good music ;) new album rocks !!!
Monday, September 8, 2008 12:06:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Rob Sayre,
Thanks for pointing that out, I don't know how I missed that. I've updated my post.
Monday, September 8, 2008 12:25:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I still cannot understand why people are so much excited by Chrome. It is just another browser, guys..
Monday, September 8, 2008 3:00:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The IE 8 beta documentation for DOM Storage link has an extra trailing character, so it fails.

--rj
Monday, September 8, 2008 3:42:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
pssssst. Most of these features have been in Opera, except the one process per tab and Gears (which is on its way), for quite some time now. Actually, most of them since long before either IE or Firefox.

It saddens me how often that browser is overlooked.
mendicant
Monday, September 8, 2008 4:18:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
While it's not a shipping feature, Ubiquity from Mozilla Labs is awfully innovative—a bit like an interactive command-line Greasemonkey. It's changed the way I think about interacting with the web and may point the way to the future.
Monday, September 8, 2008 5:26:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Restoring of previous browser sessions has been in Opera long before Phoenix-Firebird-Firefox was a glimmer in the eyes of its developers, since before the public release of Netscape 6.

Very nice feature, though. It's nice to see a quorum developing on the good features.
Monday, September 8, 2008 5:26:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Roger Jennings,
Thanks. I've fixed the link.
Monday, September 8, 2008 5:34:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Why did you leave Opera out?
Monday, September 8, 2008 7:38:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Google Chrome supports suggestions from any engine, not just Google. Out of the box, suggestions are provided for Google, Yahoo!, Ask, and various other international engines. There is currently no UI for users to see and edit an engine's suggestion URL, which is perhaps why you didn't realize this wasn't Google-specific.
Peter kasting
Tuesday, September 9, 2008 8:13:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Agree with a few other commenters - how could you leave out Opera? Makes it hard to take this article seriously.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 8:12:22 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Nice job completely ignoring Opera. They already have a totally awesome address bar which does autocomplete from your bookmarks as well as history (and title matching). They call it the address bar. It's sweet.

They also already have the "restored browsing sessions" thing and have had it since.. I don't know... 2002 maybe? It's rock-solid.

Open your eyes. The world is about more than Google and Microsoft. Real people use Opera.

(Note: I am in no way affiliated with Opera. I just fricken love it.)
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 8:17:18 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Friday, September 12, 2008 1:34:43 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Opera! Maybe it is not mainstream enough, but you cannot talk about browser features without mentioning Opera. They definitely set the bar. They just need a marketing team in the US or something. Once you go Opera, trust me, you never go back.
Harold
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