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Retrograde Browser Progress

A bit of divergence into the realm of Internet browsers.

I have been moving from browser to browser, since the days before the internet and their initial introduction. I have maintained my ground-floor AOL account(1992?) for email continuity, because it has been disseminated so far and wide. But it must be over ten years since I actually used the AOL software, having switched to Netscape very early on. Internet Explorer in its several iterations has never been high on the favored list, except that most e-commerce is geared towards being compatible with it.

[aside: I wonder what a full set of AOL disks would bring at auction on ebay as a curiosity? Enough to cover postage?]

The problem is really the ten year old desktop I normally use for web-surfing. Just too cheap to buy a new computer for checking e-mail and web surfing. But the hardware constraints and limitations have brought some performance issues to the forefront as time has marched on. I suspect the main consideration is the 512MB memory limit. [yes, it IS that old] Obviously, I’m about five years past time to upgrade. Alas – I still see no “need”, even with the price of computers now down to, or below, the price of a nice suit of clothes and a good pair of shoes. Desktops cheaper than iPods!….almost.

Anyway – I used Netscape rather than AOL’s software(go figure!) for several years and then parted ways with Netscape in favor of IE, mostly due to compatibility issues with the common level of HTML being used at the time. I then adopted Firefox early on, and have seen its level of performance degrade over time as new features have been added. Safari was an improvement over Firefox for a short time, but quickly began showing signs of memory and CPU bloat.

Overall, Opera has always been the fastest of the lot. It was also always the least compatible with certain websites that used wonky HTML hacks, or sites that stretched the envelope with latest-greatest HTML techniques.

IE8 has recently re-emerged as a better choice than either Firefox or Safari on this brain-dead CPU. On the kids’ faster gaming computer, I still prefer the look and feel of Firefox, and its bloat is not noticeable on a 2.6gig CPU with 3gig of ram.

But here on the old-n-busted box, the latest three releases of Opera have been quite an improvement over the other lot. I’ve grown to like some of the look and feel of the Opera browser, and it is still showing the fastest load times of the four currently installed. Safari now sucks so badly on this box, it is virtually useless. It is kinda sucky on the fast box now too, but usable.

But the surprise is that IE8 is now the second best performance wise, and is actually better than Opera on pages with Flash content. (Not “good”, but “better”)

I have IE8 set to run in “compatibility mode”, and it still has the occasional hiccup, but overall it now beats out both Firefox and Safari. Perhaps the Redmond nerds caught a hint with the smashing success of Vista.

Curiously, Opera is also still able to run on Windows 98 and WinME, so it makes a useful tool for a dinosaur set up for shack use.

Opera is pretty snappy in the Ubuntu partition too. The Opera version 10 compatibility on any platform seems quite good too.

5 comments to Retrograde Browser Progress

  • Interesting observations. I could not switch from Firefox as I am just so used to it and have a few can’t-live-without extensions. But my shack PC (only 5 years old but also 512MB and entry level spec when I bought it) is creaking a bit when web surfing. I think one of the reasons is the increased use of Java and Flash animation in the adverts that appear on places like QRZ.COM.

    I have already switched Gmail back to the plain HTML version. There isn’t much I miss, other than the facility to put my signature at the top of quoted text instead of the bottom. Probably some kind of ad blocker might solve the problem of the unwanted animation.

    I’m not going to dump this PC until it croaks!

  • Like you, I also found several extensions that were useful. I also have always liked the Mozilla based browsers, and have used Thunderbird as my e-mail client for quite a while too. If it were as simple as “which browser do I prefer”, I’d probably stick with Firefox. But “prefer” is subjective enough that “slow” and/or “locked-up” can modify the value judgement. 😉

    In an effort to speed the Firefox performance on the old-n-busted box, I pulled out many of the extensions and add ons, and re-installed clean versions a couple of times. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not. The latest release must contain some performance optimizations, because I noticed a definite improvement. (Need to go back and check their release notes.)

    Lately I have found I also like some of the features of Opera, but there are differences there. Fortunately, it is now to the point where it’s like changing shirts. Some fit better than others, but they all succeed(or fail) in hiding the soft under-belly to some degree.

    There’s also the aspect of the speed of the connection speed, and the type and volume of content being used on the website/server side. The client has little choice in the speed-of-connection, but I’m happy with the connection speed on the other hardware.

    As for the server-side/content part of the equation, there is always the option of “voting with your feet”, i.e. finding the information on a different website without so many twirling icons, video clips, and links to third party advertiser or “free” sites, whose “free” web server is so overloaded it is slower than drying paint. But that is not always possible, and the server side has outground the capabilities of the archaic hardware on my client end of the transaction.

    The superfluous content delivery is becoming so widespread, surfing it is becoming reminiscient of the days of dial-up. At least when accessed on obsolete hardware that is several generations out-of-date.

    It has made me appreciate the trend I see by a lot of bloggers and blog theme designers to use and create more minimalist themes. Having been a software developer, it’s a case of the developers being oblivious to the real world client side of the equation.

    I probably won’t dump the PC either – I’ll migrate it over into the radio shack in the basement! The computer down there now is a REAL boat anchor.


  • The browser plug-ins are handy, but it seemed that one or more were always breaking on browser or OS upgrades and that eventually became a pain to me.

    I’ve been fairly happy with Chrome on Windows. It’s fairly lightweight and well integrated with the Google family (Gmail, GReader, Docs, etc.). Chromium on Ubuntu is very similar though that beta still seems like it needs some work.

    I haven’t tried Opera in a long-time. It just seemed they were trying to pack way too much stuff into the browser but maybe I need to give it another look.

    73 de Jeff

  • Cousin used to be in love with Firefox until it became too bloated and unstable, not unlike an old girlfriend he used to have. The LIDS now run Chrome happily with it’s sleek look and fast performance. Sure, it has a few quirks, but you can overlook them much like you overlook that annoying laugh snort of your favorite table dancer because she can even make a flannel shirt look sexy.

  • Been trying to avoid “google” branded products as much as possible, since I perceive them as the next monopoly-to-be-shunned, just like Microsluft and EyeBeeEmm were before them.

    O’course, I don’t generally go overboard with my shunning, so I decided to load Chrome and give it a twirl.

    I am un-impressed by its performance on the brain-dead CPU. IE8 and Opera are both consistently faster at loading pages, both from cache and with the cache flushed. So far, Chrome seems to be just about tied with Firefox(no plug-ins). Safari is virtually useless on this box, in dead last place.

    Been a while since I rewiewed the suggested minimum system requirements for the varoius browsers, so I suspect this system probably does not meet them. Which makes it perfect for debugging bloatware. Not so perfect for actually reading the Fi-Ni Report.

    They are all like looking at Cousin QRM’s ex through fish eye lenses. 😮

    Ex girlfriends not included.

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