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  • The Browser Wars: Why Did They Forget Printing?

    December 19th, 2006

    Believe me when I tell you that I have spent a fair amount of time working in all the popular browsers on the Mac platform and sometimes even under Windows. I’ve also read the reviews, just to see if other tech publications react the same as I do, and there is one significant omission in most of those articles, one that I consider important.

    Understand that the first job of a browser is to deliver pages speedily and accurately. No single browser is 100% successful at this task, even if it passes the appropriate canned testing routines. One site will look great in one browser, and awful in another.

    A few demand Microsoft Internet Explorer, and don’t seem to understand that it’s losing market share, and they are also losing access to millions of potential customers. Take the real estate industry, for example, and certain multiple listing systems. Even if nobody else needed, say, Parallels Desktop to run Windows on a Mac, realtors would be able to make the company live long and prosper.

    As I’ve said previously, I have, in recent years, used Safari as my default browser. It’s not that it is the greatest application of this sort on the planet, necessarily, but it seems to do most everything well. I can view most pages without encountering any weird anomalies — and keep the phrase “most pages” in mind — and it can print well-formatted versions of those pages.

    However, Safari can be troublesome when I edit pages for The Mac Night Owl in WordPress, the open-source publishing system that we use. The main shortcoming is the lack of the navigation bar that appears in Firefox and — sometimes at any rate — in Opera. That and a few other troublesome matters, plus speedier rendering, made me finally move to Firefox as the default browser.

    But there are exceptions, and those exceptions are found in that gray area that Firefox won’t address until version 3, and that’s printing.

    Now isn’t a browser supposed to free you from the tethers of output devices and paper? Not necessarily. Indeed, there are times when a proper printing capability is absolutely essential.

    Say you place an order at Amazon or any other online retailer. You can, of course, save a file of a receipt, but you might prefer to have a hard copy to store with your business records, or just to refer to when you’re not using a computer.

    Maybe you read an interesting article at Google News and wanted to refer to it during lunch, or when there was nothing to read when flying to a corporate gathering. Regardless of your needs and your reasoning, if a browser fails at that task, you are forced to use another application to accomplish the task or do without.

    Here’s where Firefox fails — and little is said about it.

    While most sites print all right, even if it requires using the specially formatted Print version on a site, some do not. The placement of graphics overlaps the text, or just the first page of a document that would fill two or more pages appears in your printer’s output tray.

    Opera does a little better on some sites, and worse on others. If there’s an area where Safari and other browsers based on Apple’s WebKit emerge supreme, it’s printing. Even if you don’t use a site’s Print option — assuming one is even available — you’ll get a pretty good representation of what you see on the screen.

    In version 3 of Firefox, they’ll use Mozilla’s new Cairo graphics library, which, among other things, “is designed to produce identical output on all output media while taking advantage of display hardware acceleration when available (eg. through the X Render Extension or OpenGL).” I can’t wait, but why are so many other tech writers uninterested in such things?



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