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home : blogs_old : off the cuff August 20, 2014

Off the Cuff
By Chris A. Porter
WNI Web Developer and PVtrib.com webmaster shares his perspective on technology, local and national politics, and life in the Quad-city area.
Monday, November 12, 2007

Web Browsers: Which is the best?

 Chris Porter

While I have my own opinion on the matter, it would be rather presumptuous of me to give a definitive answer to this question, as peoples preferences vastly differ from one person to another. Some folks like the features of one particular browser over another simply because they work better for their day-to-day work and/or pleasure activities.

Which is the most popular?

Apparently, looking at the numbers, Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers still retain the lead with roughly 60%* of the market share between versions 6 and 7. The relative newcomer challenger, Mozilla Foundation's Firefox has been growing it's market share steadily since it's 2004 inception (14.85%*).

Oddly enough, IE's version 6 still retains a larger percentage of downloads than the latest version 7. Why? I have no idea. I can speculate, though, so feel free to call me "Mr. Speculation", if you will. :)

Some Viewpoints on Internet Explorer

Doing a bit of research, it seems there are a few factors for the slow IE7 numbers. Some users feel they simply don't need to upgrade. Others just prefer the older interface better than the new one (7 has an all-new interface). Some prefer the newer features (such as tabbed browsing - now utilized by IE as well) of alternative browsers like Firefox.

Another reason could be that some users aren't running genuine copies of windows. Ever since MicroSoft implemented their GENUINE validation campaign for upgrades, users might not be allowed to upgrade if their copies of windows aren't up to snuff (validated). In such cases, simple upgrades can be a hassle (been there, done that, got the t-shirt) even if your copy of windows IS legit.

Finally, there is a small camp of individuals that won't bother upgrading unless it's totally necessary (I.E. my father). These users will most likely stick to the busted, security-hole-riddled older versions of IE until either their computer's processor fails. In some cases, they are forced (I.E. my father again) to switch over to firefox, opera, or a host of other alternatives because their IE application has been rendered unusable for whatever reason.

Even more Speculation...

One concensus with web developers is that IE6's numbers won't dwindle dramatically for at least a few years, and since Microsoft is still supporting 6, web developers still should be too. There are always workarounds (coding for both isn't too difficult to do) to get sites to display properly on both, but some developers are adamant in only developing for the latest and greatest browsers, usually for security reasons.

Security: How Important is it?

Most people aren't web developers. Some users place a high priority on being as secure as possible. Some are ignorant as to how secure their computers, much less their web browsers are. Some don't care either way.

Example 1: If you use your browser sporadically for checking email, or infrequently reading recipes online, security probably won't be a high priority for you.

Example 2: If you spend a good amount of time on the internet surfing various sites, security may or may not personally affect your online behavior, but you probably have at least some sense of security awareness.

Example 3: If you run a website, or (in my case) develop and maintain many websites, security will most likely be a factor. Whether you run a simple blog or guestbook using a single database, or administer multiple online ecommerce stores, dynamic web applications are all possible points of entry for hackers, spammers, or viruses utilizing security loopholes in certain browsers to gain access to your information.

As the internet continues to grow, these communities of individuals with generally nefarious agendas do too. As a means to combat this, more and more users are beginning to grasp the necessity for utilizing some sort of anti-virus or anti-spam application on their computers.

However, many fail realise that a percentage of attacks come from security holes in their own web browsers.

To switch/upgrade, or not to switch/upgrade?

The average non-computer savvy person (I.E. my father) might not know too much about this 'security' business, so naturally, their line of thinking is: why bother to upgrade?

As I stated above, you can cover your bases with a decent anti-virus program. These programs are built to identify and quarantine most viruses so your computer won't be affected. These viruses/worms can infect computers via email programs, software, web browsers and a host of other methods. Having a secure web browser is simply one less vulnerability to be exploited.

-Firefox 2.x is a free, open source browser alternative that can be configured to receive automatic updates to fix critical security vulnerabilities. It was one of the first browsers to feature tabbed browsing, and offers some neat extensions to make common repetitive tasks easier. Download (Windows)/Download (Mac)

-Internet Explorer 7 was created to synch with the latest Microsoft Vista OS launch, and one of its primary features is to address these key security issues that the previous versions have. This browser is for windows machines only. Download

-Netscape Navigator 9 is a freely downloadable browser that runs on all platforms. One of the first to come into the market, Netscape was a dominant browser during the 90s. Some of the features of 9 are URL misspelling correction, and a link pad for saving links without cluttering up bookmarks. Download (Windows)/Download (Mac)

-Opera 9.24 is a free browser sponsered by Google. The company claims Opera is "The fastest browser on earth" due to results of third-party speed tests against competitors. Versions of its browser have been developed for use on the Nintendo Wii and DS gaming systems. Download (Windows)/Download (Mac)

-Safari 3 is available for beta download, and also claims to be the fastest browser. It includes a pop-up blocker, tabbed browsing, autofill for forms and was designed to be secure. Download (Mac & Windows)

* = These stats were acquired from google, w3 schools and wikipedia. Stats may vary elsewhere.

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