Indulge me for a bit (or skip this post if you have no interest)...
Over all platforms, we have come a long way from the dark days when the only web browsers available were Internet Explorer and Netscape. This trend has been especially notable on the Mac—following the trend of software generally since the move to a Free BSD-based OS (Mac OS X)—and there are now a plethora of browsers to choose from.
One that we do not have to choose is, of course, Internet Exploder: Microsoft stopped development of IE Mac earlier this decade, after Apple released Safari as the Mac's default browser. I cannot say that I am disappointed: all versions of IE have dodgy rendering of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS: the code used to control the appearance of web pages), and IE 5 Mac was simply another headache—since the MS Mac development team is mostly independent, IE 5 Mac rendered completely differently from IE 5 Windows. Having said that, of course, IE 5 Mac was the first mainstream browser to add any kind of support for CSS, and so the MS Mac team should be thanked for that!
Of course, although there are now many, many browers to choose from, there are only a few rendering engines and, as a CSS designer, this is what matters to me. Broadly speaking, there are four main rendering engines in wide usage: Gecko, Webkit, Trident and Presto.
The most insignificant (though not without its fanatical followers) is Presto, a proprietory engine used by the Opera browser.
Trident is the collective name for all of the various rendering engines used in the assorted releases of Internet Explorer. I think that my readers will know the loathing with which I regard IE and that it pisses me off, every day of my life, that I have to hack my beautiful, simple and elegant CSS in order to cater for its defects.
Most interesting at present are the two remaining engines, the first of which is Gecko. The Gecko engine obeys most CSS standards and the latest version (1.9.x) adds support for some non-standard code too, e.g. CSS rounded corners and drop shadows. Browsers that use Gecko include Firefox (and the next version alpha, Shiretoko), Camino (my favourite all-round browser, with new Camino v2 beta), Flock and the Seamonkey application suite.
Camino is my personal favourite browser and I would highly recommend it. It is a Mac OS only browser and, since it is build specifically for that OS, is far faster than Firefox—it just feels less like wading through treacle. Sure, it doesn't have the add-on architecture that Firefox has, but it does most things that I need to do anyway and it doesn't take 83 million years to open a new window. The main reason that I still use it is simply because I have for years, however, and I have yet to make the leap to a far more exciting browser...
For, as a web developer, one browser beats them all: Webkit. Webkit came out of the KHTML rendering engine and is both the name of the rendering engine and of a browser.
Webkit is the Open Source project run by Apple and the rendering engine's progression is regularly reincorporated into the Safari browser. However, the Webkit browser is what you want to use if you want to see some seriously cutting edge CSS stuff such as reflections, masks, gradients, transforms and animations, all controlled through CSS. For exciting developments in CSS, no other rendering engine comes close.
Since Webkit is, like Gecko, Open Source, it has been incorporated into numerous other browsers; each one is pretty unique—each one attempting to bring new functionality to their browser.
Some are simply a proof of concept, like the Google Chrome-emulating Stainless; others provide novel interface enhancements, like Shiira or Cruz (this latter has the potential to be stunningly good).
And, of course, Google's Chrome (although it has yet to arrive on Mac OS) is already gathering a considerable amount of market share, considering how recently it was released.
There are probably many more that I have missed (and I have only really tested the Mac OS ones, obviously) but the point is made: there are a huge number of small companies releasing great browsers that obey W3C code standards.
Actually, they are better, for the browser developers do not move at the glacial pace of the W3C—it seems likely, for instance, that widespread use of CSS rounded corners will be implemented long before the official CSS3 standards are agreed (and thank fuck for that: flexible rounded corners are an absolute bitch to simulate properly with images).
It seems that drop shadows, too, will also be widely done through CSS (and they are, in some circumstances, utterly impossible to do properly): Webkit already supports them, and the next edition of Firefox will also (the current version already does text drop shadows).
It's all looking like we developers will be able to do a lot more, with a lot less effort. Now, if people would just get rid of IE and move to a better browser (or if IE would simply buck its ideas up), then we'd be laughing.
Oh, and everyone would get faster-loading, nicer-looking and better-functioning websites...