Why do proteins evolve at different rates? Advances in systems biology and genomics have facilitated a move from studying individual proteins to characterizing global cellular factors. Systematic surveys indicate that protein evolution is not determined exclusively by selection on protein structure and function, but is also affected by the genomic position of the encoding genes, their expression patterns, their position in biological networks and possibly their robustness to mistranslation. Recent work has allowed insights into the relative importance of these factors. We discuss the status of a much-needed coherent view that integrates studies on protein evolution with biochemistry and functional and structural genomics.