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):

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.

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.

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).

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?

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!

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