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How’s Your Browser?

New web-surfing tools can make your internet experience easier and more secure.

By Helen Thompson

You probably remember Netscape—and the “browser wars” of the late 1990s. But because Internet Explorer came with most Windows machines after 1995, it became the dominant browser by 2000. Nowadays, most sources agree that more than 95 percent of internet users are using IE to access the web.

The flipside of that market dominance is that hackers have figured out how to exploit certain weaknesses in your web browser. One wrong click can turn your entire system into useless “goo.” The good news is that new contenders have entered the foray, and in recent months it looks like they may make inroads into IE’s market share.

The young upstart: Firefox
Primary among them is Firefox (www.GetFirefox.com), the new Mozilla browser that’s turning heads all over the “geekiverse.” Unlike some other non-IE browsers, Firefox isn’t tied to any particular operating system (like Konqueror and Safari are) or online service (Netscape is now an AOL entity), and it’s easier to use than some of the other players out there.

Best of all, it deals very adroitly with security holes and has a number of other features that make it attractive:

  • It has a built-in pop-up ad blocker that significantly improves the web-browsing, signal-to-noise ratio, and features improved blocking of unsafe content such as worms and spyware.
  • Google is unobtrusively built into Firefox’s interface. Just type your search term in the top right-hand corner and off you go.
  • Tabbed browsing allows you to have several pages open in the same browser window.
  • Lending your laptop to a colleague? Clear your private information and browsing history with one menu command.
  • You can have all the latest headlines from your favorite syndicated news source in a single dropdown menu.
  • If you’re really into customizing your browser, you can get the latest add-ons from www.mozilla.org.

Firefox and opera are solid web browsers that you don’t need special knowledge to run.

The veteran contender: Opera
Opera (www.opera.com) also offers tabbed browsing, improved security from spyware, pop-up blockers, and wider options for integrated searches, including Google, Amazon and eBay. It’s probably gotten the most attention for its portable-device browsers on cell phones and PDAs, such as Opera Mini, but it’s also a viable alternative for IE on your desktop or laptop machine.

Opera is actually a survivor of the original browser wars, but during the ’90s it didn’t keep up with Netscape and IE. It caught up again during the past few years, but one thing that used to put off potential users of this powerful browser was that its free version had banner ads and its licensed version cost $40—not a lot, but enough that people tended to stay with IE. With its latest version, Opera 8.5, the browser is ad-free—and free.

Opera’s primary advantage is that it’s meant to be a low-impact application that could run on any machine and suit any user:

  • A “fit-to-window” feature allows you to see large pages on your small or low-resolution monitor without having to scroll around to read the content.
  • Extensive keyboard shortcuts give you the ability to navigate easily without having to use your mouse or trackpad.
  • Its small size means that it loads pages very quickly.

Firefox and Opera are solid web browsers that you don’t need additional knowledge to run, and you can import your existing IE favorites, settings and other preferences. Try these browsers out and see which you prefer, but give each one a thorough test drive—you’ll find a lot of improvements over what you may be used to. Have fun exploring the internet in a whole new light!

 


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