This is a follow-up piece to “The New Browser Wars.” Instead of recounting my experience with various browsers, this piece focuses on the factors that go into deciding which browser is right for you.
Netscape. I’d say for the majority of Windows users, this is the “right” browser for you. From my experience the majority of Windows users fit what I view as the Netscape 8.0 profile:
- Wants everything to “just work”
- Doesn’t really want to customize stuff
- Cares about functional security but isn’t paranoid about viruses, spyware, etc.
- Uses Windows almost exclusively.
- Enjoys a few new features that come-out-of-the-box
Netscape’s latest release has the distinct advantage of having some of Firefox’s features (tabbed browsing and lack of integration with the OS—i.e., not ActiveX for secretly downloading spyware), while still have Internet Explorer on hand for “trusted sites.” I recommended Netscape to some friends who previously had had a bout with spyware but who still needed to check their Yahoo! Mail. Apparently, Firefox and Yahoo! Mail do not get along. Luckily, since Yahoo! is considered a “trusted site” by Netscape, Netscape will use IE settings for rendering Yahoo! pages. By the way, as a side note, Netscape does not emulate IE. It actually uses IE. So if your IE settings are lax (or too tight), then your IE through Netscape settings will be equally lax (or tight).
There are a number of downsides to using Netscape, but if you fit the profile above, you won’t care. First of all, in its current state, Netscape 8.0 is available only for Windows—no Mac, no Linux. Netscape also does not have much customizability. Sure, you can drag a few buttons around, but if you have only one toolbar, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit your address bar, search bar, and bookmarks in the top area. Also, there are no extensions for Netscape and only two themes.
Firefox. This is your next best choice. It runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows. It’s fully customizable (with extensions and themes—many extensions and themes), and it starts off very bare-bones. You can add search engine plug-ins. You can add almost anything you like (my personal favorites are adblock, flashblock, foxytunes, forecastfox, and user agent switcher). There are a lot of nice little things about Firefox (you can read about them at my Switch to Firefox page), but Mozilla products in general do not tend to always work with certain proprietary software (say, Hotmail and Yahoo!). Firefox is also not extremely stable. I’d say it crashes on me once every week and a half or so. That’s often enough to be an issue/consideration. Still, with the sessionsaver extension, it’s not that big a deal, and I believe the rest of Firefox’s functionality and extensibility makes up for a little bit of instability. Hopefully, version 1.1 will fix a lot of that.
Opera. Opera, in many ways, is an amazing browser. Almost every benchmark test I’ve seen has rated it the fastest browser on any platform. It, like Firefox, is one of the few browsers that’s available for Linux, Mac, and Windows. It also is usually at the cutting edge for features (mouse gestures, turning images on and off, voice navigation, opening tabs in the foreground or background easily, the inclusion of multiple search engine bars). Its approach is a bit the opposite of Firefox’s, though. Whereas Firefox starts of barebones and allows you to add only what you want, Opera starts off fully loaded and allows you to disable certain features or make them at least disappear. The one thing that won’t disappear unless you pay for it to disappear is the banner ad at the top of your browser. This can be annoying, especially since the latest version of Opera has animated banners. Also, Opera is even worse than Firefox at working with proprietary software or “designed for IE” sites. It presumably has something like User Agent Switcher, but it doesn’t really work. If you care about speed and cutting edge features and don’t mind paying for a browser or putting up with a banner ad, Opera’s your friend.
Safari. I have to say—I’m not a big fan of Safari. Sure, it has tabbed browsing (if you enable it through preferences), but it’s severely limited in terms of functionality. For example, it has nothing like a user agent switcher, so it will not work with certain websites at all. The first time you start Safari, it allows a one-time import of bookmarks from another browser. After that, you have to do some kind of weird workaround in order to import bookmarks and other settings. You certainly can’t export bookmarks from Safari. And there aren’t many Safari extensions. Safari also isn’t the fastest browser out there. The only thing that really sets Safari apart from other browser is that it is native to OS X. Therefore OS X keyboard shortcuts and caret browsing actually function as they should. Unfortunately, it’s not only native to OS X; it’s exclusive to OS X. No Linux Safari. No Windows Safari. Use Safari if you’re a Mac zealot who likes only Mac products, or if you cannot live without keyboard navigation in a Mac environment.
Internet Explorer. Don’t use this browser. Honestly, what’s the point? It doesn’t have tabbed browsing. If you need to use IE-only features or visit an IE-only website, you can use Netscape’s IE (which will activate only for “trusted sites”) or Firefox’s User Agent Switcher. If you want a fast browser, Opera is far faster. If you want something that operates natively to a Mac environment, you use Safari. IE is for people who are too lazy to realize that the simple act of using another browser would immensely enrich and make more efficient their internet experience. Oh, and guess how most spyware/adware gets on computers…