Monday, July 04, 2005

Which Is the Best Browser?

Today I'm posting on a lighter subject than I normally do: browsers. What is a browser, some of you may ask? Well, the browser is a program on your computer that provides a viewing environment for the web pages you want to see. An example of a browser is Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which is also the most widely used, but there are many alternate browsers out there. OK great, you might respond, but why should I care which browser I'm using?

I admit, most browsers do their job quite well, in terms of connecting you to the Internet. The most popular browser is definitely Microsoft IE (6.0), followed by Mozilla's Firefox (latest version: 1.0.4), then Netscape (latest version: 8.0) and Opera (latest version: 8.0). In recent years IE has been losing market ground to these other browsers because the alternates offer more nifty, innovative features to make it easier to get around the Internet quickly and organize pages you visit on a regular basis, among other things. Additionally, these browsers provide lots of tools for customization, enabling you to tailor the look and functionality of your browser to your personal needs and preferences. These tools can also make your browser quite fun!

Tabbed Browsing
Browsers such as Firefox, Netscape's latest (8.0) and Opera all include "tabbed browsing", a feature that allows you to open web pages by loading them as "tabs" within the same browser window. This makes surfing multiple pages more convenient, because it's easy to switch back and forth among open pages. Tabbed browsing also conserves system resources, since you only have one browser window open. Until recently, tabbed browsing was not included as part of IE. Realizing that it has become a very popular feature, Microsoft has now developed tabbed browsing as a function within their new MSN toolbar, which when downloaded can bring this functionality to the IE browser. With its upcoming 7.0 release, Microsoft will include tabbed browsing in IE (read IE: Not Dead Yet).

My favorite browser, Mozilla Firefox
Still, when it comes to customization, the favorite browser of many, and the one I use most often as my main browser, is Mozilla Firefox. Firefox is an uncluttered browser that also has hundreds of themes you may download to enhance the way it looks (very appealing to my aesthetic needs). But the best thing is its great functionality, via "extensions" that are easy to download and install. Some extensions I use within Firefox: Adblock- lets me get rid of annoying ads on a page; Menu X- adds the ability to collapse any toolbar and provides up to 24 function icons I can add to any toolbar; Foxy Tunes- lets me listen to the installed media player of my choice right from the status bar; Bible toolbar-- lets me search the Bible by keyword or passage. I have others still more extensions, among them the Preferences Toolbar, a Calendar, Remember Password; I haven't even explored all the ways I may utilize these completely. Yet all of these extensions work without a hitch, and I can always uninstall a particular extension if it isn't functioning correctly.

I think my favorite aspect of the Firefox browser, though, is that I enjoy using bookmarks (favorites), and Firefox allows me to arrange my bookmarks strategically within a "bookmarks toolbar folder" that gives me easy access to them. An entire folder of bookmarks residing on this bookmarks toolbar folder might be clicked and opened simultaneously, as tabs.

I have also set up Firefox so that every time it opens, three favorite "home pages" open simultaneously, in tabs. I can always change these settings or add more home pages in the future.

The recently updated Netscape browser 8.0 was based on Firefox and offers many of the same features; it sets up more for you on the browser. Thus I would recommend it for those who would rather have a browser that is more "ready-to-go". Read the PC mag Netscape review for more details. Like Firefox, Opera has loads of features, yet I think that using it is not quite as intuitive as Firefox. Also, to get rid of the ad banner that comes with the free version, one must purchase their browser, something I would be unwilling to do with other great browsers available for free. Still, Opera comes with some of its own unique features.

Enhanced "IE" browsers
There are also browsers built on the IE framework which add improved functionality to the basic IE. These include the Avant and Maxthon. I downloaded these two recently and found them to be very simliar. I would recommend them if you have grown accustomed to IE but perhaps would like some enhancements.

Well, happy browser hunting on this 4th of July!

P.S. What's your favorite browser?

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