Browser Review by Ross Shannon
Any browser that was to successfully challenge IE’s market dominance would have to be far and away the best browser on offer. Netscape 6 was decent, but didn’t cut it. The Mozilla suite, on which Navigator 6 was based, is excellent but aimed at developers and unwieldy for most user’s needs. The web needed a browser that was fast, lightweight, and did everything IE does, but better. That browser is Firefox.
Firefox is a browser designed from scratch to be secure, fast and customisable. It is the safest browser available, as it doesn’t contain any of the vulnerabilities that IE has, such as ActiveX components so often used to install spyware on IE-users’ machines. Most importantly, Firefox is still under very active development by a huge community of volunteer coders. If a vulnerability is found, it is corrected and an update made available in days, sometimes hours. This means Firefox cannot fall into the same trap that IE did — receiving no updates for years and having its various security holes get exploited by thousands of hackers and virus writers.
Firefox uses the same powerful rendering engine (code named Gecko) which is found in all Mozilla products. This means it has superb support for all those things we web developers love. Its rendering is accurate and fast, and it has advanced stylesheet support up the proverbial ‘wazoo’. DOM support is present and accounted for.
Firefox has an open architecture which allows the installation of themes and extensions. Themes, like ‘skins’ in many other applications, give the browser a whole new look. Extensions are even better — anyone can write one to make the browser do something special, like check your Gmail account when you open the browser, or block all ads. Head to » Mozilla update to load up on extensions. Of particular use to any webmaster is the » web developer toolbar, which is essential.
All that is obviously really great, but the things that you’ll notice first about Firefox are features like tabbed browsing which reduces your desktop clutter by keeping all of your open webpages within one Firefox window. Firefox was also the first browser to offer popup blocking by default. Once you’ve used either of these features, you will not ever want to go back.
» Download Firefox.
The Mozilla Suite
The Mozilla suite is a collection of software — a browser, a mail and newsgroup client, a chat client and a HTML editor. This was Mozilla’s flagship product until the constituent parts were split up, reworked and developed separately into standalone products — Firefox for browsing and the excellent
Thunderbird for mail.
Most of the good things said about Firefox also apply to the suite, but I would still recommend the standalone Mozilla products for speed and ease of use. If you’re looking for one download to do the whole lot, the suite does exactly what you want.
» Download the Mozilla suite.
Netscape Navigator 7
Netscape Navigator 7 is almost entirely based on the Mozilla suite, with some Netscape branding thrown in on top. As such it’s also an excellent browser, mail program, IRC client and HTML editor, but the Mozilla suite will be more regularly updated so I’d advise you to go for that.
» Download Netscape Navigator 7.
Internet Explorer 6
In early 2000 Internet Explorer 5 was the best browser on the market. It rendered pages pretty well, had a nice interface and was fast. IE6 was released soon afterwards with a few relatively minor fixes and cemented IE’s stranglehold on the web browser market.
Fast-forward to today and Internet Explorer has become the bane of any forward-thinking web designer’s existance. With the onset of advanced CSS layout techniques, IE6’s rendering engine has been exposed as buggy and unreliable. IE is years behind the times — CSS properties that are well supported in Gecko-based browsers, like Firefox, aren’t even on the radar for IE, and probably won’t be for another few years, when the long-delayed next version of Windows appears.
Explorer is an average browser. The interface is still good and it’s relatively speedy when rendering web pages, but its lack of support for CSS specifications that were standardised in 1998 is a huge problem. It is prone to crashing, and has hundreds of security holes which allow spyware to get onto your system, to the point where I can’t recommend it to anyone anymore. Upgrade to another browser listed on this page, and encourage others to do likewise.
Oh, and for all those Mac users out there; currently » IE5 is the latest Explorer release. It’s actually better in some ways than the Windows version, having better support for CSS. It has been discontinued though, and has become a rather poor choice, so a better option is Apple’s own » Safari or Mozilla’s » Camino.
» Download Internet Explorer 6.
Opera Software’s browser is a really good piece of work. Billing itself as “The fastest browser on Earth!”, it is a free browser (supported by a branding banner at the top, which you can pay to get rid of) with excellent standards support.
The amount of ideas and helpful features that they’ve managed to cram into opera is really something else. Your desktop is kept tidy through its tabbed browsing features, which opens all webpages in dockable windows inside a single instance of the application. There are a range of tools to help you find information on the net easily, from integrated search-enabled toolbars to instantaneous looking-up of selected words.
Two very helpful features are the page-zoom feature, which allows you to zoom in the entire document, instead of just the text; and the developer shortcuts to turn off stylesheets and images. In other browsers you have to go through multiple menus or use bookmarklets for this functionality.
The interface is clean and sleek, though a bit crowded. Whereas the interface in browsers like Firefox is strictly controlled, in that nothing gets added to it without it being absolutely necessary, Opera’s designers don’t seem to have been so discerning. As a consequence, the menus and toolbars can be overwhelmingly filled with options that you generally won’t need to change.
All in all, Opera is definitely worth a try in place of the more established browsers. It may not have a large following, but it is a hugely promising offering, and is pioneering features you will undoubtedly see appearing in other browsers down the line. I like it.
» Download Opera
Originally posted on yourhtmlsource.com by Ross Shannon
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