Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Firefox 4 beta arrives, HTML5 browser war heats up


Don’t look now, but the next wave of browsers is starting to roll-out. Just five days ago Opera shipped version 10.6 of their “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” web browser, and today Mozilla has followed with the first beta release of Firefox 4. Google continues to spin the versions on Chrome with v5 in beta and now rocking “native” Flash support, while Microsoft slowly works on churning out their return-to-standards IE 9 (begging for attention with their impressive hardware acceleration). And let’s not forget Apple, which released Safari 5 about a month ago at WWDC.

It has been about 6 months since browsers really stole headlines, but the entire arena of browser excitement has been gaining steam during the first half of 2010. Individual milestones from the browser makers have marked the road:

  • Microsoft made (and continues to make) waves with IE9’s hardware acceleration, pushing the idea of browser performance reaching new levels by using more hardware.
  • Google has arguably done the most to refocus the browser industry on performance, but it was the introduction of the open Web M video format that really surprised at Google IO.
  • Apple has not done much to make Safari on the desktop more popular, but they have elevated the awareness (and power) of HTML5 by popularizing rich mobile browsers on the iPhone and iPad (and defiantly refusing to support Flash).

The world’s second most popular browser, Firefox, has not had much to say in the mean time, so the introduction of Firefox 4 beta finally rounds-out the browser conversation. Firefox 4 beta ships with a radically re-imagined (or quickly “borrowed”) tab experience, support for the new WebM video format, and the requisite improvements in support for HTML5 and CSS3.

Ultimately, the current wave of browsers is coalescing around competing on a few key “web battlegrounds:”

  1. Performance – Chrome redefined the browser performance standard 2 years ago, and everyone (including Google) has been working ever since to go faster. The current wave of browsers is intently focused on faster JavaScript processing, faster HTML/CSS rendering, and faster browser startup speed.
  2. HTML5 – The new wave of browsers won’t have 100% uniform support for the collection of standards that define “HTML5,” but there will be broad support for the core features that move the standards-based, rich web in to the future. Even Microsoft has set the bar high for delivering complete standards support in IE9.
  3. Video – Yes, video. While a relatively small feature in the grand scheme, it is a contentious feature since it quickly derails “HTML5 is the future” conversations in to talking about the need for rich plug-ins (like Silverlight). The new wave of browsers is aiming to make video delivery on the web as familiar and uniform as static images.

For web developers and consumers this is a win-win situation. Browser makers are finally competing on meaningful features that will help reenergize web development in the same way Ajax did in 2005. If the makers can ship browsers that live-up to the promises, we’ll all be browsing the web faster and interacting with rich applications, previously the exclusive realm of plug-ins and client development.

The only challenge to this utopian future: legacy browsers. So why not do the future a favor and help an IE6 user move in to the “pre-future” today?

Telerik, of course, continues to test and commit to supporting the latest browsers as they emerge, both with our RadControls for ASP.NET AJAX and our open source UI Extensions for ASP.NET MVC. I’ll provide more details on how we’re embracing HTML5 and the new browsers in future blogs posts. For now, give some of the latest HTML5, speed-demon browsers a test:

Download Firefox 4 Beta 1
Download Chrome 5 Beta
Download IE9 Platform Preview
Download Safari 5 (actually, not a beta!)
Download Opera 10.6 (if you just love being unique)