All those web browsers, which one do I pick?

by Louellen Coker on May 25, 2008

A few weeks ago, my husband looked over my shoulder as I was working, and seeing that I was using Mozilla’s Firefox™ (Firefox), he asked me why I was using that browser and if he should switch.

I must admit, I was surprised to learn that my husband, who is usually up on all things techie, had never even heard of Firefox™. He had never heard of it, because his laptop came with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE7) and Netscape Navigator® (Netscape) installed when he purchased it and, as it worked the way he thought it should, he never looked for alternatives.

I’m sure many others are the same way. A company issues a computer with a browser already installed, usually IE7, and the user is either unable or doesn’t find a need to install a different browser. With, according to Wikipedia’s comparison of browsers, at least 31 different browsers to choose from, life can be simpler to use what is handy.

While I didn’t tell my husband whether he should switch browsers, I did go over the highs and lows of the standard and most popular browsers as described in Wikipedia’s breakdown of the market share as of October 2007 (Figure 1). Shortly thereafter, he absconded with my laptop to test drive the most popular browsers.


Figure 1. Market share of Web browsers, October 2007.

By far, the most common browser is Internet Explorer with 77.85% of the market share. I had used that browser for so long and regularly used some options, such as tabbed windows, I was a hesitant convert. However, because of many incompatibilities with several of my favorite Web sites (www.clipart.com, www.lynda.com, and the Blackboard functions at www.nctc.edu), Firefox™ has become my browser of choice. And with Microsoft trying to make the world walk to the beat of its drum, many others have made the leap to Firefox™ or other browsers.

Which one should you choose? You’ll want to carefully look at what each has to offer and how you will use it. Here is a discussion of the high points of the different browsers as supplied by their marketing departments. You’ll want to test drive to see what is best for you.

Internet Explorer

IE logo When developing Internet Explorer 7 (IE7), Microsoft reportedly listened to customer feedback to make changes to its browser. They focused on three key areas to make it the browser of choice for consumers at home, IT professionals, or developers. They focused on:

  • Making everyday tasks easier
    Users experience improved navigation through tabbed browsing, Web search right from the toolbar, advanced printing, easy discovery, reading and subscription to RSS feeds, and much more.
  • Providing dynamic security protection
    Through a robust new architecture, IE7 integrates security features that help defend against malicious software (also known as malware) and offers new ways to better protect against the theft of personal data from fraudulent Web sites, a practice known as phishing.

Creating an improved platform for Web development and manageability
Microsoft’s new platform offers improved support for cascading style sheets (CSS), a rich really simple syndication (RSS) feeds platform, and robust tools for deploying and managing IE7 in large enterprise environments.

Visit the Windows Internet Explorer Web site for more information about IE7 or the download.

While many sites have adapted to the vast changes to IE7, they lost much of their luster in the early days of release. Many large sites lost functionality, forcing their users to download Firefox™ or other browsers to access their favorite sites. For example, it took a whole semester for North Central Texas College (NCTC) to rework their Web site to let students access their Blackboard accounts. The issue was so severe in fact that NCTC sent global text and e-mail messages to its students and staff warning them not to upgrade to IE7 or to access their NCTC accounts via a different browser.

Firefox™

Firefox logoFirefox™ has increased its market share because it took a while for companies to adapt their sites to conform to the beat of IE7’s drum. It has also increased because Firefox™ has a deep seated philosophy that a group of smart, creative people can take on the big guys and win. In a nutshell, Firefox™ lets its users:

  • Enjoy a better Web experience
    With the use of tabbed browsing, spell checking, search suggestions, session restore, and more, the browsers let users a better Web experience.
  • Personalize their browsers
    Firefox™ offers a wide range of plug-ins and search engine managers that lets users create their own browsing experience.
  • Stay secure on the Web
    Security is at the top of everyone’s list. Firefox™ keeps you safe from spyware, hackers, scammers and spammers using the power of a vigilant and passionate community to protect you 24/7.

Visit www.mozilla.com for more information or to download Firefox™.

Safari™

Safari logoIf you use an Apple Macintosh® (Mac), then you’re probably familiar with Safari™ as it is designed to work with Leopard™, the Mac operating system. Not wanting to discriminate, Apple has complete information and a version suitable for Windows users to download.

Besides saying it has faster downloads, Safari™ users enjoy a slick interface that lets them:

  • Surf securely
  • Find terms in a page quickly
  • Use tabbed browsing
  • Resize text at will

Opera

Opera logoOpera, along with all the others, touts itself as the best browser for its users. New in the current version are two very interesting usability options—widgets and thumbnail previews. Visit the Opera Web site for a complete listing of Opera’s features and to download the free browser.

Opera widgets come in a growing variety as there are developers out there who live to create different downloadable widgets for you. Whether you’re looking for games, Web development assistance, calendaring, or music, you can find something that is intriguing. Just as a word of warning, some of the widgets are worth the price you pay for them and include some bugs that create snags in your browsing experience.

Perhaps my favorite feature is the browser’s thumbnail previews shown in Figure 2, Opera Screenshot. (Firefox™ will have this feature in its next version that is currently in Beta testing.) Sometimes it is not enough to have a URL pop up at you. The visual cue is extremely helpful to those who find themselves with multiple tabs open at any given time.

Opera screenshot

Figure 2. Opera screenshot.

AOL® / Netscape®

AOL-Netscape logo AOL® / Netscape® falls at the bottom of the top browsers. And yes, they are listed together as they are both now interlinked. This interlinking is so prevalent that when you browse to www.netscape.com, you are redirected to www.netscape.aol.com and have to wade through the AOL® entry page to find the link to the Netscape Navigator® download.

Once there, the browser touts that it has all the key security features and highlights that version 9 is much improved because of its stand-alone installation for Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as URL correction, and a link pad that lets you save interesting links without cluttering up your Favorites folder.

If you’re comfortable with AOL®, then you’ll probably feel comfortable in this browser. Just be aware, that AOL® does infuse its marketing into this browser and you’ll have to take the time to turn all that off.

This article by Louellen S. Coker of Content Solutions appeared in the December 2007 issue of Technically Write, the STC Lone Star Community’s newsletter.

Trademarks

Microsoft, Windows and the Windows logo are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

Firefox™ is a trademark of Mozilla.

Apple Macintosh®, Leopard™, and Safari™ are trademarks of Apple Inc.

Opera is a trademark of Opera Software ASA.

AOL®/Netscape® and Netscape Navigator® are a registered trademark of AOL LLC.

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