Serving as a window to your online world, the web browser has become one of — if not — the most important pieces of computer software used on a daily basis.
Not only are browsers used to access websites for information and e-commerce, but for many, it’s a conduit to entertainment (such as streaming videos or online games), communication (including web mail sites) and social networking with friends (be it Facebook, MySpace and Twitter).
At this point in time, there are five major browsers to choose from: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome and the self-titled browser from Opera. All of them are free to use, they work with most operating systems and enjoy frequent updates to fix problems or add new features.
Deciding which one to go with, however, boils down to personal preference — or in some cases, laziness, if the web browser was already installed on your PC and you don’t care to change it.
If you’re reading this article then you already have a browser, but those curious as to what the “other guys” are offering should read on for a brief look at each of the big players in this space, and consider our pros and cons for each after spending a week with all five.
Internet Explorer 8 (microsoft.com/ie8)
Launched in 1995, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) web browser successfully battled against the almighty Netscape graphical browser — and it didn’t hurt IE shipped with every version of the Windows operating system — and has maintained its commanding market share over the years.
Available in 25 languages, the newest version, 8, is much faster than past IE browsers, and includes some handy tools that speed up your surfing. This includes: a “Favorites” bar for one-click access to your most visited web sites; “accelerators,” which help you search for something quickly via a pull-down menu; and the ability to highlight a word or phrase and immediately look up its definition, translate it, email it, map it, and so on.
While it still has a ways to go, it’s also more secure than past versions of IE, which have been plagued with security vulnerabilities.
Pros: Most websites and plugs-ins work well with IE. Faster speeds and handy time-saving tools. Compatibility View helps see older websites easier. Available in multiple languages. Built into Windows.
Cons: Security holes still found. Market share leader means more susceptible to attacks. Some crashing.
Mozilla Firefox 3.5 (mozilla.com/firefox)
Since its fall 2004 release, Mozilla’s Firefox has grown to become a serious contender to IE, and second place overall in the browser wars.
The latest release of this lean and fast browser has added a few new bells and whistles, including “Tear Off Tabs” (a feature that, like Apple’s Safari, lets you drag and drop tabs into a separate browser window), a private browsing option that destroys any history left by the surfer (catching up to Microsoft and Google’s browsers) and an interesting addition called “location-aware browsing,” where a website can prompt for your location to help serve you better (such as recommending a pizza restaurant in your neighborhood if you’re craving a slice).
As with past versions, Firefox is easy to develop for and has an active development community that creates plug-ins and “extensions” for the browser — often letting Firefox users do neat things inside the browser not found in competing software (check out a few at addons.mozilla.org).
Pros: Newest version is roughly 3x faster than Firefox 3.0. Tabbed browsing works well. Convenient features, including location-aware browsing. Vibrant and passionate development community.
Cons: Some bugs and security issues that requires “patching.”