Guide to Types of Web Browsers

While the different types of Web browsers have really narrowed over the years, today's Web browsers still fight a bitter war for dominance. The question of which browser is the best is a subjective one, but understanding different browser types can help you go a long way toward selecting your browser of choice.

The Big Five
Today's Web browser market is narrowed down to a few key players in a war for dominance: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. All of these browsers are graphical, meaning that they display images as well as words. Even mobile Web browsers installed on cell phones are typically based in one of these existing browsers; Opera for many mobile phones, and Safari for Apple's iPhone. Text-only browsers such as Lynx and Mira are still available, though they can be tricky to operate if you're used to graphical browsers.

Each browser has its own strengths and weaknesses. Internet Explorer and Safari are good all-purpose browsers for the Windows and Mac operating systems, respectively. Firefox and Opera are cross-platform browsers that work with both systems. The Firefox browser can be customized with thousands of third-party add-ons to add functionality, from watching TV stations to making Twitter posts. Opera is an Internet browser that lets you chat in IRC or browse Usenet groups as well as surf the Web. Chrome, the newest browser on the block, is built for enhanced Java support, enabling it to run certain Web-based applications faster than its competitors. 

If you need a Web browser for Windows, you've got a lot of choices. Every major browser, even Apple's Safari, is available in a Windows version. Mac users have fewer choices, with only Safari, Firefox and Opera available in official versions, although a Chrome port is in the works. Linux users can get official versions of Opera and Firefox and there are workarounds to run some browsers that don't have native Linux versions.

Web Browser Statistics
Internet Explorer is no longer the most popular Web browser. In 2009, Mozilla Firefox took over as the most widely used Web browser, with a usage percentage that trumps all three versions of Internet Explorer combined. Google's Chrome browser brings up third, with a small but growing user base. Since its release in September 2008, Chrome has topped Apple's Safari browser in users every single month. Finally, Opera has a growing market share of cell phone use, coming pre-installed on more than 40 million phones.

Specialized Web Browsers
Text-only browsers are popular among a small segment of Web users who have older computers or slower Internet connections, as well as those who have visual impairments. A browser designed specificially for the visually impaired, WebbIE, expands on the basic text-only features by making it simple to find podcasts, RSS feeds and accessible books. IBM's aiBrowser includes multimedia control tools that let visually impaired users turn off multimedia content that interferes with text-to-speech browsers and provides alternative ways of accessing content in Flash- and Java-based menus.

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