Thurrott on browser advice

Monday, July 7, 2008

I know, I know… picking on Paul Thurrott is akin to picking on a retarded kid.  In that respect, I don’t feel right about writing this sort of blog post.  On the other hand, this guy has some sort of following and just preaches the ridiculous advice.  Whenever I see a link to his site, I just know it’s going to be entertaining.   In this case, Paul discusses browser security (amongst other things) and gives his “blessing” for Firefox and IE7.  While I have no issue with anyone’s personal preferences, I can take issue with the justifications presented for or against various products.

http://community.winsupersite.com/blogs/paul/archive/2008/07/07/more-reasons-to-switch-to-firefox.aspx

“Internet Explorer 7. There is absolutely nothing wrong with IE 7. In fact, on Windows Vista, it’s arguably the safest Web browser there is. I don’t “love” IE 7, and in fact choose not to use it. (See below.) But I’m OK with real people using it because it will keep them safe. And it finally has enough features that’s it’s not lacking in any meaningful way.”

If by “nothing wrong” and “features that’s not lacking” he’s not referring to security and standards support, etc. then I suppose he’s right.  The purpose of this post isn’t to bash Microsoft Explorer, but let’s be honest.  IE in general (not just IE7) has the worst track record for security.  Some praise the inclusion of a phishing filter. That would be fine if it wasn’t extremely easy to circumvent.  Having a broken phishing filter only serves to provide a false sense of confidence and likewise is far worse than having no phishing filter at all.

In terms of standards support, IE has always been a joke.  For web developers, this has always been a source of frustration.  On one hand, there are cool features that could easily be implemented.  On the other hand, the most common web browser is also the least capable.  If you’re building a personal web site, you might not care about the IE based users.  For commercial sites, you don’t have that luxury.  IE6 didn’t even have full CSS1 support.  It took Microsoft 5 years to update that to IE7 and it still has lousy CSS support.  IE7 can’t even pass the old Acid2 test much less the newer Acid3 test.  It has no support for SVG, etc.

Every browser performance benchmark I’ve seen has listed IE7 as the worst performer by a large margin.

The list goes on, but the criticism for IE7 has been well documented.   

I will say this; IE8 does seem to be headed in a better direction.  Those web sites that were written around the flaws of IE6 and IE7 will apparently be burned with the release of IE8 as IE8 will default to a more standards compliance mode.   http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080303-sanity-prevails-ie8-will-default-to-standard-compliant-mode.html   

But, given the slow pace of development and historically poor performance, it’s more likely that IE8 will simply “suck less” as opposed to offer any real competition (quality wise) to Firefox, Safari or Opera.

But let’s be serious. IE is in use on over 70 percent of the world’s computers and people aren’t actually contracting malware as a result in any massive numbers. (Put another way, if they are, they’re idiots.) “

So, according to Paul, you’re an idiot if you contract malware?  Wow, that’s a powerful claim Paul!  I suppose if you’re using a Microsoft browser on a Microsoft Operating System, you shouldn’t be terribly surprised by contracting malware, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call someone an idiot when it happens.  

Firefox 3. Mozilla’s browser is my favorite, by far, for two reasons. One, it has an incredible extensibility model that has created a cottage market of useful add-ons. You can be really silly with these things and overload the browser, yes. But if you’re looking for some key bit of functionality that’s not built into Firefox, there’s an add-on out there for you. And you can change the UI dramatically with skins, many of which are high quality. The second reason is security. While I do feel that IE 7 is as secure or more secure than Firefox, Firefox does benefit from a pair of things: Hackers love it (and Mozilla) and are thus less likely to target it, and becuase it’s used less often than IE, it’s less likely to be a target. (This last bit benefits Mac OS X as well.)”

I’m not sure I even want to touch this one.  For starters, I do like Firefox and would agree that it’s an all around good choice.  Though, Firefox isn’t perfect either.  While there are many plug-ins to extend the product’s capabilities, these plug-ins have a habit of breaking between major releases.  Liberal use of plug-ins can also slow the product down.

Safari. At this point in time, you’d be crazy to use Safari on Windows. Apple is a black hole and I don’t trust this software or the way they foist it on people. The only thing seems dishonest to me.”

That’s one of those sentences you have to read twice before you realize it’s not you, it’s that Paul doesn’t make much sense.  In any case Paul’s issue against Safari doesn’t seem to be based on security, standards compliance, usability, performance, etc.  He just doesn’t like the way Apple’s Software updater has the download checkmark defaulted for Safari.  While I might agree with Paul on that trivial issue, the logic to avoid the Safari product all together is just irrational.  My criticism for Safari on Windows would be that it doesn’t feel like a native Windows application.  Apple uses a Leopard theme for the application Window, the “maximize” button behaves like it would on a Mac as opposed to Windows and the rendering engine use’s Apple’s technology as opposed to Microsoft’s.  It’s probably fair to argue that last item for two reasons.  The first is that a consistent rendering engine will more precisely render the same web page across platforms.  Further, Apple’s font rendering technology is more true to font’s intended shape and size.  Still, Mac users don’t like Mac programs that feel like Windows ports.  For the same reason, Windows users don’t want programs that feel like Mac ports.  I’m guessing that Apple wants Windows users to get a feel for using Mac applications.  However, then end result sort of feels like a fish out of water in some respects.   On the other hand, Safari is arguably the best browser for Windows in terms of performance and standards support.

Opera? I know there are fervent Opera supporters out there because they email me every single time I write anything about Web browsers. “When you are going to review Opera [insert version number here]?” “It does [this] and [this] and is better than [Firefox | Safari | IE] at [this] and [this].” Ah, right. I have the same reaction to Opera I’ve always had. I don’t get it. I don’t get why people install this thing and I don’t get why they like it. I know, I know. That’s just the way it is, sorry.”

Here, Paul doesn’t even pretend to have a valid argument against the product.  He says “I don’t get why people install this thing and I don’t get why they like it”.  Has he even tried it?  He doesn’t actually say one way or the other.  Like Safari, he doesn’t mention anything positive or negative about the product explicitly.  It should be pretty obvious why… because he doesn’t know anything about the product. 

In reality, Opera is actually a very nice product.  But, it’s a product in search of a market.  For better or worse, the FireFox is the more popular cross platform open source browser.  According to Net Applications, Opera represents less than 1% overall market share.  

Despite the low market share, Opera has found its way into a few mobile phones and even on the Nintendo Wii.  While the list of devices is impressive, these aren’t devices where people really use the feature.  Whereas, the browsing on something like the iPhone is actually common for that device.

Either way, the biggest criticism for Opera seems to be it’s lack of market share more than anything else.  

Conclusion

I didn’t actually expect an intelligent discussion from a Paul Thurrott article.  However, if he’s going to preach such nonsense, he’s fair game for criticism.  I wouldn’t imagine too many people take him seriously in terms of a legitimate source of information.  Still, the prospect of someone reading his posts and taking it as gospel is pretty scary.

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