Monday, 23 March 2009

Browser choices

For reasons that are too complicated to go in to, I was taking a serious look at the different browsers that are available on a PC. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you. Before I started, I tended to think of a browser like a hammer or a screwdriver – it’s just a tool that you use to get a particular job done, like getting on to Facebook or catching people’s tweats on Twitters. However, I now see there’s far more to it.

Simply put, a browser is a piece of software that allows you to access the World-Wide Web. It’s what you’re using now to read this! Browsers have been around as long as the World-Wide Web. Early text-only browsers have in the main been replaced by graphical ones. Some of you might remember Mosaic from 1993, which later became Netscape Navigator – and was the browser of choice for most people at that time. Microsoft, when it eventually caught on to the fact that the Internet was what people wanted on their computer, hit back by giving away Internet Explorer. IE, by the way, wasn’t developed by Microsoft, they bought it from a company called Spyglass.

With Explorer free on your computer, why bother with a second product? Who needs two hammers (metaphorically speaking)? It seems that lots of people do. Nowadays, IE7 (with Version 8 currently available as a beta) is still dominant in terms of market share, but users can also run Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, SeaMonkey, Maxthon, Avant Browser, Flock, and K-Meleon (and maybe others too).

Explorer is like the vanilla browser. It’s the standard that other browsers have to beat or else why would anyone use something that was worse than they already had? In Explorer’s favour, there are a number of add-ins that enhance the basic IE7 and can help it catch up with some of the facilities and feature available with other products.

That’s also the big plus for Firefox – that there are a huge number of add-ins that allow a user to customize the product to do exactly what they want it to. Firefox is typically more secure than Explorer. It is less likely to be targeted by hackers and script kiddies. Firefox also uses fewer resources on your computer to get the job done than Explorer. It also starts and loads pages faster than Explorer. And, of course, Firefox is better at following Web standards than Explorer. It ensures that W3C (World-Wide Web Consortium) standards for how a Web page should appear are more-closely realized in the browser.

Google’s Chrome, which came out of beta testing very quickly, is really a big JavaScript engine and could, very easily, run services and applications as if they were desktop applications. As a user, I like the fact that I can type anything in the address bar and Google searches for it. Chrome also provides a secret browse facility!

Safari was originally a Mac browser. Apple, with its iPod and iPhone, has a reputation for being “cool” and easy-to-use, their browser is the same. It displays your 12 top sites in visual curve, which look s great. And you can move the thumbnails around. Unfortunately, I found it wouldn’t install or wouldn’t run on a couple of machines. But when it did, it was really nice to use.

Opera is worth trying for two reasons, firstly it is very fast, and secondly it turns up on hand-held devices. So it might be worth using the same browser on your laptop as on your mobile phone. It also has torrent technology built in – for downloading films and TV programmes etc.

Did I come to a conclusion about which one I liked the best? Not really, but here’s my advice... Use Internet Explorer because you’re going to find it on every other PC you use. Use Firefox because it’s safe and full of features. Use Chrome because it could have Java-based applications in the future. Use Safari because it is looks so “cool”. Use Opera because it’s the same browser you have on your phone.

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