If the Internet is the Information Superhighway, your browser is the car you use to navigate this global digital highway. Just like with your car on a physical highway, your experience on the Internet can be greatly affected by your choice of browser. eReviewGuide discusses the major browser packages and examines key criteria you need to keep in mind when selecting a browser. Four core non-negotiable criteria come to mind when it comes to evaluating any browser: speed, add-on availability, security, and Web 2.0 support
Safe browsing is the first layer of your computer’s security
The Internet is filled with all sorts of malicious code: from trojans that load viruses and spyware to viruses that seek to turn your computer into a spam bot to all shades of malware ranging from lethal to annoying. Your choice of browser greatly determines whether your computer system will fall victim to these threats. Consider your browser’s protections against autoinstallation or autodownloads from the Internet. Another key security concern is whether the browser automatically loads any link or if there’s some sort of blocking/filtering feature to proactively block out websites with malicious code. As malware becomes more and more sophisticated, security is easily the top criterion to keep in mind when considering which browser platform to install. How good proactive features your web browser still have, it’s a wise choice to combine your web browser with some other internet security software for maximum protection, the web evolves and so do the threats.
The need for speed
Just like car enthusiasts, Internet users care for speed. A lot. The faster your browser processes data and instructions pulled from the Internet, the better the end user enjoyment. Videos load faster. Pages are rendered faster. Search results can be analyzed and used faster. When it comes to the Internet, faster is always better. It is therefore a good idea to pick a browser platform designed with features that enable faster web surfing and page rendering.
The more add-ons the better
Your web browser should not be a one-trick pony. Besides browse the web, Internet users also need to do many other things simultaneously. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a browser that accommodates software plugins that handle these non-browsing tasks? Enter add-ons. Add-ons extend the power of your browser. From picture capture, video capture, autobookmarking, to complicated SEO-related tasks, add-ons enable you to do more than one thing at once and process the data your browser receives in a huge number of ways. The only limit, of course, is your browser platform. Does it allow plugins/add ons at all? How open is the browser platform for plugin development? Does it already have a sizable library of add-ons? You need to keep these questions in mind when selecting a browser platform.
Web 2.0 compatibility is the key to today’s websites
As the Web evolves, more and more pressure is put on browser platforms’ ability to accommodate and adapt to the latest technology demands. While almost all browsers allow for updates to meet newer sites’ changing technical standards and protocols, not all provide for a smooth and easy upgrade/update/transition process. Browsers that can adapt smoothly and unobtrusively to changing Web technologies definitely provide a better user experience.
How the majors stack up
Without further ado, here is eReviewGuide’s listing of the major browser applications available on the Internet today.
Firefox Web Browser
Open source, very flexible, and one of the most secure browsers available on the market, Mozilla Firefox does have one serious Achilles heel—it is a memory hog and can take, comparatively, forever to load. It more than makes up for its beefiness and memory weight through its HUGE library of add-ons/plugins. This is probably the MOST plugin-supported browser. Pretty much any task you want to do along with surfing the web can be accommodated by the right plugin. Another point of distinction: Firefox supports the Mac platform.
Chrome Web Browser
One of the newer kids on the block, Chrome is Google’s brainchild and is fast gaining marketshare from Internet Explorer. While it has the same antivirus/antiphishing protection as Firefox, it does suffer from one major issue—privacy. Unlike Firefox where it is easy to surf privately and keep history erased, Chrome keeps track of your browsing unless you clear it. Also, toggling the private surfing/no history feature is a hassle. It also has way less plugins/add-ons than Firefox.
Internet Explorer Web Browser
The original Netscape killer; Internet Explorer, this battle-hardened browser still stands on top of the browser hill. At around 60% marketshare, IE’s position is slowly giving way to Firefox and the fast climbing Chrome. Most of this marketshare erosion is due to earlier page rendering problems suffered by previous versions of IE. It also didn’t help that the bulk of spyware, malware, and trojans were aimed at infecting computers using IE. It has made some great strives in increasing protection but the damage to its reputation is enduring. It’s hard to switch back to IE once a user gets hooked on Firefox’s add-on/plugins capabilities.
Opera Web Browser
Opera has always been marketed as a “fast” browser. In this respect, it doesn’t disappoint. Of the major browsers we examined for this report, Opera is the fastest. Unfortunately, Man does not surf the Web on speed alone. Opera’s closed source means its users are missing out on the huge library of add-on goodies and flexibility of Firefox and Chrome. It also has less privacy features than other major players. Given the rapid evoluton of the Internet, we find Opera’s closed orientation a tad bit too constricting for comfort.
Safari Web Browser
If you own an iPhone, you are well aware of Safari, Apple’s standard browser. Securitywise, it lags behind the market leaders when it comes to attack site detection and fake site detection. Also, it has less browsing features than the majors. It’s great for a Mac or the iPhone but if you’re using a PC, you’re probably better off with one of the Big Three.
Flock Web Browser
Flock is a browser designed from the grown up for one purpose—social networking. It keeps you up to date of site updates and social network feeds by your friends. For this purpose, it is great. While Firefox can more than match Flock’s social networking capacities, Firefox isn’t configured by default for such social networking. That’s the main appeal of Flock and also its limitation since other factors like speed (it’s quite slow) and security (it has less anti-phishing protections and privacy features) keep it a niche player.
Update: The Flock browser has been discontinued (April 2011).