Categories
Ubuntu Web Browsers

I’ve gone to ads

In The Ethics of Adblocking, I talked about not liking obnoxious ads (Flash and banner ones). When I started getting close to exceeding my bandwidth allocation for the Psychocats web hosting, I started moving the images to ImageShack, which worked for a while, but their image hosting can be a bit unreliable. I’ve considered switching to another web host, one which has a higher default bandwidth allocation, but making the move would be extremely complicated.

So I’m opting to go with some less obnoxious ads on my site (text-based, unobtrusive). I’m hoping that will help generate enough revenue that I can actually start hosting images (and larger ones) on my own host and then pay for the bandwidth costs. We’ll see how it turns out. If it turns out well, I’ll move all the image hosting back to my own host. If it doesn’t, I’ll keep it all on ImageShack.

Categories
Linux Ubuntu Web Browsers

A Firefox User’s Review of Opera 9.22 on Ubuntu

For Linux distributions, Firefox seems to be the web browser of choice. It also is the most popular non-Internet Explorer web browser for Windows users. Sometimes people gripe about Firefox, though. It’s slow. It’s a RAM hog. It crashes.

Well, I hear a lot of hype about Opera (a closed source web browser that is W3C-compliant), and I thought I’d give it a go. Here’s what I found.

What I like in Opera:

  • It’s fast, undeniably much faster than Firefox in initial load, in page rendering, in browsing back to previous pages.
  • Cookie management is better. I like the ability (as in Galeon and Konqueror, too) to accept or reject every cookie as it comes and make decisions about sites to blacklist or whitelist as I’m visiting those sites.
  • I like having an integrated email client and web browser. And Opera’s email client also has a universal inbox (like Mac OS X’s Mail and unlike Thunderbird), which is a great thing for people like me who have four or five accounts we check regularly.
  • Key letter searches. I love the “I’m Feeling Lucky” search in Firefox, but it’s also cool to be able to do searches with key letters. That way, I can do multiple searches from the address bar without needing to have a separate seach window with a whole bunch of search engine icons to scroll through.
  • Theme installation and preview is easier. I can install themes and see how they look without restarting the web browser.

As you can see, Opera has a lot going for it.

What I’m lukewarm about in Opera
Some features may appeal to others, but they didn’t mean much to me—Speed Dial and Widgets, for example. I don’t dislike those features, but I’m not impressed by them either. Speed Dial offers me nothing over bookmarks, and widgets just confuse me, since they are not like extensions. They appear to exist outside the browser. And some people make a big deal about mouse gestures. I tried them once, and I don’t see what the hoopla’s about.

What I dislike in Opera:

  • I’m now a Gnome user, and Opera is a QT application and doesn’t integrate well. And, even though it is a QT app, it still suffers from the same inability to preview images in the file upload dialogue that Firefox suffers from.
  • The tab-closing behavior doesn’t jive with my browsing method. I often keep a link open that I’ll get back to later, and I open other links and browse those. In Firefox, I can do this. In Opera, I can’t. Every time I close a tab, it’ll keep returning to the one I’d left open for later. And, yes, I’ve tried all the different options.
  • Opera has an annoying system tray icon that won’t go away.
  • If I do Control-click in Firefox, the link will open in a new tab in the background. In order to get the link to open in a new tab in the background in Opera, I have to Control-Shift-click. Since opening tabs in the background is something I do quite often, the need for this extra keystroke is annoying.
  • The built-in image blocker doesn’t allow you to block certain images. Not a big deal, since it gets most images, but I like the control of being able to block any image on the page, not just the ones Opera considers block-worthy.
  • Even though I like the email client, I don’t like the way it’s visually integrated into Opera. I would love to have a tab that’s the full email client, including the list of mail folders. The way it is now, Opera includes the list of mail folders as part of the web browser sidebar. So if you have that sidebar open, it’ll be open for every tab you look at. And if you close the sidebar to get rid of the annoying sidebar icons, you also end up closing the folder list.
  • I like the search by key letter function, but adding search engines isn’t intuitive. I had to do a search to find out how to do it.

My verdict: It’s pretty good, but I think I’ll stick with Firefox. It has more to do with personal habits than actual empirical deficiencies, but personal habits matter. After all, I’m the one using the web browser, so it should fit my needs. If I ever were to move away from Firefox, I think Seamonkey might be more to my liking than Opera. But if you’ve ever been curious about Opera, there hasn’t been a better time to try it. It is loaded with features.

Categories
Web Browsers

Talking to co-workers about browser security

Just now, one of my co-workers asked me (over the cubicle wall) “Did you hear about the security flaws in Firefox?” I told her that I had. Then I composed the following email to her:

You can read more about the flaw here:
http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2007/07/…

Flaws are constantly discovered (usually a few every month) in every web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera), and they’re usually patched pretty quickly. Mozilla tends to patch flaws within a week of their having been discovered. Microsoft sometimes takes months to patch their Internet Explorer flaws.

No matter what browser you use, it’s always a good idea to avoid any sites you don’t trust and to keep your browser version up to date.

You can see from the release notes of the previous versions of Firefox that almost all the new releases are due to the patching of security flaws in previous versions:
http://www.mozilla.org/projects/security/…

Hope that helps!

I don’t ever want to make it sound as if one company (Mozilla or Microsoft) is the “good guy” or the “bad guy” or that one browser is a good browser and the other bad. Firefox vulnerabilities, for some reason, tend to make headlines more than Internet Explorer ones, even during the times that Internet Explorer has more vulnerabilities, more severe vulnerabilities, or a longer time between patches. I don’t want people getting the impression that Firefox is inherently more insecure than Internet Explorer (when some might argue the opposite to be true… and actually have a good case).

Bottom line: most end-users are not going to install NoScript and whitelist sites one by one. Even I’ve grown tired of doing that. It’s always a fine line between convenience and security, so I think the advice I gave was the most sound I could give in trying to find that balance—Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what browser you use. Just don’t visit fishy (or phishy) sites, and always keep your software up to date.

Anything anyone want to add?

Categories
Web Browsers

The Ethics of Adblocking

I hate ads. Radio ads. TV ads. Billboard ads. Internet ads. Advertisements bother me, especially when I catch myself singing McDonald’s’ stupid “da-da-da-da-da” jingle.

Back when my wife and I (way before we were even engaged) first started exploring basic website design (HTML… not even with CSS), we used to use money-cost-free hosting sites. These sites were usually short on space (5 MB or 20 MB) and completely lacking in reliability (host here today, gone tomorrow). The difference between a “free” and a not “free” host? Banner ads. The “free” host would have a banner ad (usually flashing), and the not “free” host would allow you to make your website look the way you wanted it to.

We soon realized it was worth shelling out to a real web host to get real web space that wouldn’t have a flashing banner ad on it. So now we use ICDSoft to host our websites. It isn’t really that expensive when compared to other things we shell out for (DirectTV, cell phone calls, groceries, bus passes, etc.), and it makes sense that we would pay for it.

Do I want to pay for every site I visit? Of course not. But here’s the thing—most sites want you to visit. They’re not going to charge you to visit the site, because creating any kind of deterent to you visiting the site is contrary to the site’s goals (unless it’s someone’s relatively private blog that she wants only friends and family to see).

Ads are like bonus revenue. “Hey, they happen to be visiting our site anyway. We might as well make some money off of it.” And, really, websites (unlike magazines, TV shows, and movies) are pretty cheap to host. If you’re really that hard up on cash and have something valuable to offer the web-viewing public, how about just putting a nice (and inoffensive-looking) little donation button at the bottom of your page? I’ve donated to sites that are worthwhile.

I’ll be honest. There are a couple of times when Psychocats almost went over its bandwidth limit because of the screenshot tutorials for Ubuntu that I host there. I had a few options:

  1. Ask for donations.
  2. Put up ads
  3. Pay the extra money for the exceeded bandwidth
  4. Make the tutorials screenshot-less
  5. Host the images elsewhere

In the grand scheme of things, if people are going to donate money to something Ubuntu-related, I’d rather they donate to the forums or directly to the Ubuntu project. Even though I don’t mind paying for some basic hosting, I don’t want to pay the penalty for exceeding the allocated bandwidth. This is coming out of my own pocket, after all. The whole point of the tutorials is to have screenshots (for most of them, anyway), so I couldn’t get rid of the images. So I ended up hosting the images at ImageShack, which is, of course, ad-funded (partially, at least).

So why is ImageShack okay in my book? For the same reason that Google is okay in my book. ImageShack and Google are not obnoxious about their ads. Google’s ads are text-only and off to the side. ImageShack has ads only if you click on the thumbnail to get a bigger image, and even then the ads are below the image.

That’s what it really boils down to, though. If you’re going to use ads, you need the right balance of content (to draw them in) to advertisements (to keep them away or adblocking). The only reason AdBlock was developed in the first place was the web deteriorating to the point of being nigh-unusable. Flashing banner ads were everywhere. They were covering (on top of) the actual text of news stories. Pop-up ads were popping up, popping under. You expect to see ads in a magazine, but rarely do they have pop-up ads that don’t allow you to read actual magazine articles.

So, no, as both a webmaster and viewer, I do not find anything unethical about blocking advertisements. If your site is worth visiting, charge people actual money, put in unobtrusive ads, or ask for donations… or just suck it up and pay for it yourself.

Further Reading:
AdBlock revisited
Is Ad Blocking Ethical?
Why Adblock is bad for the “free” Internet

Categories
Web Browsers

Does browser speed matter?

At work, I have a high-speed internet connection. At home, I also have a high-speed internet connection. If ever I was to be on dial-up, I think I’d just browse with images turned off (or use a text-only browser, like Dillo). No matter what browser I’m trying or using, I always use tabs.

So, when I see debates on the internet about browser speed, I’m not sure what the point is exactly. This is how I browse:

  1. I visit the site I want to go to.
  2. If I see an interesting link, I middle-click it so that the tab for it loads in the background.
  3. I read anything that needs reading.
  4. If I see more interesting links, I middle-click those as well so that they load in the background.

The first page takes anywhere between .1 and 1.5 seconds to load. Then the load times for subsequent pages don’t really affect my browsing experience, because I don’t even see those pages until I close the one I’m currently viewing.

The only time speed has mattered to me is when the website’s server is slow (taking more than ten seconds to load), and that really has nothing to do with web browser I’m using.

What do other people think? Is browser speed important to you in picking which web browser you use most often? Why?

Categories
Web Browsers

A Browser Comparison

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…

Categories
Web Browsers

Why Switch to Firefox? Why Switch to Firefox?

Firefox Logo Lately, I’ve been on a conversion spree—converting people I know to Firefox. So far, I’ve “converted” my wife, my pastor, and half my co-workers. (My parents were already using Firefox when I visited them last Christmas.) It’s been great getting people, especially my co-workers over to Firefox, because most of them don’t really seek out alternatives on their own; in fact, most of them didn’t even know there were alternatives. Usually, when I approach them and say something like, “I noticed you’ve been using Internet Explorer. Do you want to try something else?” the response I get back is, “There’s something else?”

Thunderbird Logo Granted, it’s been easy to get people to explore alternatives for a few reasons. First of all, at work, our IT department is very supportive of Mozilla, and they’ve already got most of the staff using Thunderbird, the email client, so users are already comfortable with the idea of alternatives to Microsoft. Secondly, I often approach people who are having problems with their computers. One of my co-workers had her computer loaded with spyware. Another couldn’t get Internet Explorer to load any pages, and she’d already tried loading those same pages on other people’s computers that were sharing the same internet connection, so she knew there was something wrong with her browser. I loaded Firefox onto her computer, and all the sites loaded immediately.

Firefox's Look There are some other selling points, as well.

First of all, people like the simple look of Firefox. It’s got a location bar, a search bar, a bookmarks bar, and the displayed webpage. Sure, you can get Internet Explorer to have a simple look, too, but when IE is simple, it won’t do much any more. Most people I know who use Internet Explorer need to use the Google Toolbar or some Yahoo! equivalent in order to get some good functionality out of the browser.

Search Bar On a related note, another selling point has been the search bar. New converts love the fact that you can search using multiple engines from one bar and that you can add engines. I’ve added, as you can see here, the NIV Bible, Google Maps, and the Internet Movie Database.

Only one new convertee has been as thrilled with themes as I’ve been, but they’re there. If you don’t want to use them, that’s okay, too, but they are an option. Two of my favorites are Red Cats/Green Flavor and Saferfox Xpanded.

Red Cats Theme
My wife and I are cat lovers, and Red Cats/Green Flavor doesn’t go too crazy with the cats—it has enough cats to appease the urge to worship felines while not obscuring the browser’s functions and displays. It’s also a fairly consistent theme in terms of appearance.

Saferfox Theme
Saferfox Xpanded doesn’t have the consistency of Red Cats (for example, there is no visible button to close the find-as-you-type search bar), but it’s great for Windows users who love the Aqua appearance of Macs.

Tabbed Browsing Internet Explorer users who read the news or like to click on multiple links off a site are always amazed that something like tabbed browsing exists on other browsers. They’re used to right-clicking a link, clicking on “open in new window,” then clicking back to the original page to find other links.

With Firefox, you can middle-click on any number of links (or right-click and click on “open in new tab”), and they will all load in “tabs” within the same browser window but in the background, so you can get to them when you’re done reading the page you’re on. This is great for when I look at Google News, see five or six stories I read. All I have to do is middle-click them all, and they’ll all be lined up to read later.

Bookmarks Toolbar I have to confess—when I first started using Firefox, I hated the bookmarks toolbar, and I chose to hide it; I felt it just added an extra layer that pushed down the browser display window. After a few months, though, I tried actually using it (instead of clicking on “bookmarks” and dragging the mouse down to the appropriate site link) and I loved it. Here’s a place where you can put all your most frequently used bookmarks, and they will appear as easy-click buttons below the address bar. On a side note, there’s a great feature in bookmarks that allows you to open everything in a folder (say, a bunch of sites you visit every day) in tabs—all at once.
Tabbed Browsing

Extensions Extensions are the best part of Firefox, and it’s one of the few things that sets it apart from Safari, another great browser (for Macs only, though—Firefox, however, is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux). I used to be a big fan of Opera, before Firefox came out. In many ways, the three browsers (Safari, Opera, and Firefox) are similar. What makes the difference for me, though, is Safari and Firefox are out-of-the-“box” simple, pared-down browsers. Opera, although high in functionality, starts from a fresh install as a crazy all-over-the-place browser. Unlike Safari, though, Firefox starts off simple in its features but can get as complex as you want it to be through the use of “extensions.”

Here are some of my favorite extensions…

FoxyTunes FoxyTunes: Ever been listening to your music (through iTunes or WinAmp) while surfing the internet? Suddenly a song comes on that sucks or is too loud, or suddenly the phone rings and you need to pause. Sure, it might take you only that extra few seconds to switch applications, press the appropriate button on your music player, then switch back, but wouldn’t it be nice to have all the controls on the status bar at the bottom of your browser?

Adblock Adblock: Sure, banner ads aren’t as annoying as pop-ups (which Firefox blocks by default and does a pretty good job of blocking), but they’re still annoying. Adblock lets you block individual ads or ads from a particular site. You’d be amazed how much cleaner some pages look after the ads have been taken out of them.

Bloglines Bloglines: Most blogs (not all) are syndicated using something called an RSS feed, which lets RSS aggregators see exactly when a site has been updated and what the new content is. Bloglines allows you to collect together your favorite blogs, and it notifies you, via this extension in Firefox, any time a new blog you read has been updated. A little red dot appears on the “B,” and you can have immediate access to what’s been updated. Even comic strips and newspapers have RSS feeds.

ForecastFox ForecastFox: I used to visit the weather channel webpage, but now I have a three-day forecast that appears as little pictures on my status bar. If I hover over any picture with the mouse, I get details (temperature, clouds, wind, rain, etc.).

User Agent Switcher: When I first came across this extension, I had no idea what it was because of its cryptic name. One of the downsides to using Firefox is that it isn’t compatible with every website (or, rather, those websites aren’t compatible with W3C standards, instead catering to Internet Explorer’s non-standard HTML and use of ActiveX). Granted, Firefox is compatible with most websites, though. The only websites my wife and I have ever used that didn’t support Firefox were Cingular Wireless’s webpage and the FAFSA webpage. Once we installed User Agent Switcher, which essentially tricks websites into thinking Firefox is Internet Explorer, both sites worked fine with Firefox (interestingly enough, Opera supposedly has a similar function built into it—”identify as MSIE 6.0″—but Opera’s feature doesn’t really work).

I also recommend TabBrowser Preferences, FireFTP, and Download Manager Tweak.

A couple of other Firefox bonus features…

Find as you type
“Find as you type” starts finding words in the page as you’re typing the word, instead of popping up a search dialogue in which you have to type the word, then click “find next” to actually find the word.

Great Keyboard Shortcuts:

  • Control-T opens a new tab (if you use TabBrowser preferences, you can make each new tab opened go to the homepage by default)
  • Control-K goes up to the search bar
  • Control-L goes up to the address bar
  • Control-W closes the current tab
  • Control-Tab moves to the next tab in the window

I'm Feeling Lucky
Built-in “feeling lucky” searches: People who like the “I’m feeling lucky” feature in Google will love this. For those not familiar with “I’m feeling lucky,” there are two buttons below the search bar in Google. One searches and displays a page of search results. The other button takes you straight to the first search result. If you type a search query in the address bar of Firefox, it will go straight to the most likely site.

I’ve tried many of the major browsers out there: Netscape, Camino, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, Deepnet Explorer; and I have to say Firefox has been the best I’ve seen so far. Use what works for you, of course, but at least try Firefox.

Below is a complete “list” (in image format) of my favorite Firefox extensions:
Extension Favorites

P.S. Someone suggested Luna as a theme worth trying out for those switching from Internet Explorer, as Luna is Windows XP’s default theme. There are also instructions on the Firefox site for how to switch from IE—it’s usually quite effortless, as the Firefox installer automatically imports Internet Explorer’s “favorites” into Firefox “bookmarks.”

Read more about Firefox in the news.

Why does anyone use Internet Explorer?

Categories
Web Browsers

The New Browser Wars

I used to be an Internet Explorer person, but lately I’ve been playing around with different browsers. These have been my experiences with several (this is not a comprehensive list, by any means—it’s only the ones I’ve tried):

Netscape
My first web browser ever, apart from Lynx (the text-only web browser) was Netscape. It was an early innovator, and, it seemed, the “only” browser around. It wasn’t really, but to someone new to the internet and to email, Netscape was just there. When I arrived at college in the mid-1990s, I knew a few people who used email, but I swore I wouldn’t use it. After a few weeks, though, I was checking my email every day—several times a day. I would get annoying forwarded jokes from friends, and if I ever needed to look something up, I would use Infoseek on Netscape. Sure, even back then Netscape was clunky, but there didn’t seem to be any other alternatives. I hated the buttons with those lavender diagonal slashes and green arrows. I didn’t like the status bar that would keep dancing back and forth at the bottom of the screen. Still, Netscape was the first thing I used, so it has a special place in my internet experience.

Internet Explorer
Sure, all the news now is that IE is not secure—it welcomes spyware, viruses, pop-up ads, and the like. Back in the late 1990s, though, that stuff wasn’t as much of an issue for the average user. IE was fast. Netscape was slow. That was all that mattered to me. Over the years, I came to like IE. Soon, I even had a Google Toolbar installed on IE, making it even more useful and fast. In the end, though, IE was only a utility. It got the job done. There was nothing flashy about IE. I just knew it was faster than Netscape.

Opera
Even before all the recent buzz about “alternative browsers” (meaning alternatives to IE), I gave Opera a shot. I’d just read Liz Castro’s book on HTML, and she mentioned that Opera was a browser at the forefront of the W3C (web standards) movement. There are a lot of great things about Opera. I immediately became enamored with the idea of opening tabs in the background and getting to them later. I liked that new links could be opened in either the background or foreground with a simple right-click. Opera has a button that will toggle the showing or hiding of images (for faster browsing, presumably). It’s supposed to be the fastest browser on earth (I don’t know—it’s fast, but so is Firefox). Another great feature Opera has is the ability to have multiple search bars at the top of the browser (one for Amazon, one for eBay, one for the Dictionary, one for comparison shopping, one for Google, etc.). This is also an Opera annoyance, though. No matter how you toggle your Opera preferences, all of the top gunk manages to clutter up what seems to be half the screen, leaving little room for the actual webpages you visit. On a related note, Opera is not free. You can either pay $40 for it, or you can put up with the lousy banner ad that is part of what clutters up the top bit of the screen. Ultimately, though, what sinks Opera is its lack of compatibility with non-W3C-compliant websites. Even something so “basic” as the San Diego Zoo website simply does not work on Opera.

Deepnet Explorer
As far as I can tell, Deepnet is just IE with additional features. It looks like IE, feels like IE, even imports all of IE’s preferences and bookmarks. Supposedly it’s more secure, faster, and smaller on your hard drive. I don’t know how that works. There has to be a downside. Ultimately, if you’re looking for something else… but basically IE, go for Deepnet. It has peer-to-peer sharing without spyware.

Firefox
No matter what other browsers I try (and I love playing with new browsers), I somehow always end up coming back to Firefox. Even though it shares a lot of features with Opera, in many ways (in approach, for example), it’s the exact opposite. When you download Opera, it opens up loaded with all sorts of toolbars, shortcuts, menus, buttons—it looks like some kind of crazy Christmas tree of a browser. If you take the time to customize your preferences, you can remove all that, of course, but Firefox is the opposite; it’s just barebones browser at first. Then, through extensions, you can add on little features and tweaks as you see fit. Firefox also has multiple searches built in (and you can add more through search plug-ins), but they don’t clutter up the top of the browser window—there’s only one search bar with a drop-down for each search plug-in (IMDB, Amazon, etc.). The best thing about Firefox is that it gives you a great web experience, great security, great expandability, but it’s also highly functional. I’ve found only a small handful of sites that don’t work on Firefox (Cingular Wireless, Yahoo!’s Launch, and Windows Updates).

Safari
What’s wrong with Safari? It’s a beautiful-looking browser, and it shares many of the same features with Firefox, but it’s not that customizable, and it’s for only Macintosh. Sound like an Apple product?

Camino
This is supposed to be Mozilla’s Mac-friendly browser (Firefox works on Mac, but it isn’t ideal for Mac yet), but it’s really just a cheap imitation of Safari. It doesn’t have anywhere near the options and expandability that Firefox has, even though they’re both Mozilla products.

In the end, anyone reading this may say, “Who cares?” It’s true: when it comes down to it a browser lets you look at a webpage, and when you click on a link, it opens a new page. That’s the gist of the internet. Everything else is bells and whistles. Some of the bells and whistles are quite fun, though!