Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Alternatives to Internet Explorer?

It is amazing what we take for granted on a daily basis. A friend emailed me as a reaction to my earlier post, asking about the existence of alternatives to Internet Explorer. I said I would have to blog about that...It is amazing what we take for granted on a daily basis. A friend emailed me as a reaction to my earlier post, asking about the existence of alternatives to Internet Explorer. I said I would have to blog about that.

I just assumed everybody knows that Internet Explorer is not the only choice. I also assume that AOL users know they don't have to use the AOL browser or AOL Messenger once they are online. Everybody knows about Google, the really fast search engine, right?

So, why would you want to switch web browsers? What choices are there besides Internet Explorer?

A little history...
For very little history on the subject, essentially Netscape Navigator was the browser when I first started. Netscape written by the same people who wrote the first browser, Mosaic. Around 1995, Microsoft released Internet Explorer (IE), also based on Mosaic. Netscape was a paid-for program, Internet Explorer was offered for free.

Thus began the browser wars. Microsoft was smart enought to undercut Netscape by getting AOL to use IE for its browser and by giving away similar products to what Netscape was selling.

Microsoft Internet Explorer reached a 97% market share. Netscape was sold to AOL in 1998. Netscape released the code as open-source software and AOL began financing the Mozilla Project, a free, cross-platform Internet software suite, whose components include a web browser, an email client, an HTML editor, and an IRC client.

Current Trends
Microsoft IE remains the most widely-used web browser. The Mozilla Foundation continued the Mozilla Project as a result of AOL divesting itself of the Netscape assets and employees in 2003. Mozilla-based browsers have chipped away steadily at Microsoft Internet Explorer's market share ever since. Mozilla Firefox, the browser component, was released in November of 2004.

Depending on who you ask, IE has about 85% of the market, with Mozilla-based browsers, including Firefox, holding about 12%. Opera, developed independently between 1992 and 1996, holds around 2% of the market since its release in 1996. Opera took web browser design from the ground up, and it supposed to be the best performing browser.

2004 was a bad year for Microsoft. Having such a high market share, Microsoft was naturally the largest target for hackers and people who hate large corporations. A series of exposed security flows in Microsoft IE, coupled with the fact that IE is long overdue for a new release, caused increased interest in alternative browsers and open-source solutions. Firefox was released that the right time and gained nearly 10% of the market in little over a month.

Why Switch?
Pros for switching to Firefox or Opera:
Cons against switching:
  • you learn something new
  • some web sites use only IE's Active-X controls, like
  • Firefox, being open-source, is supported by other users
Should You Switch?
It depends on you, I suppose. If you like to tweak stuff, you’ll like switching. If you spend a lot of time browsing the Internet due to work, you'll like switching. Firefox is faster, in my opinion, so that’s one reason to switch. I like the way FF handles feeds and bookmarks.

For novices, Firefox would be a good upgrade, since it is faster than Internet Explorer and offersa pop-up blocker. But if you feel skitterish... just keep visiting regularly and stick with IE.

For the comfortable or advanced user, Firefox has plug-ins to expand its abilities. My favorite plug-ins are for mouse gestures, ad blocking, and weather reports. Once you get used to mouse gestures, you’ll only use IE when a web page is poorly written and only supports IE. Tabbed browsing and advertisement/image blocking are two other reasons I would switch.

What is tabbed browsing? You know you can open more than one web site at a time, and each goes into a new window. Well, tabbed browsing allows you to open more sites as tabs.

If You Are Not Sure, Just Wait
It is my understanding that IE version 7 is due out in Autumn. It should incorporate the best Firefox features. If you are not sure, and you are using updated anti-virus and anti-spy software, just wait until Autumn and upgrade Internet Explorer. If you want cool features now, give Firefox a twirl.

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