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Time for another (Browser) War

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Opera has made the first move of the year in Browser War part II. As many will recall, a few years ago Netscape, Internet Explorer, and several other less influential web browsers enaged in what is now known as the “Browser Wars”. From the Guardian,

By 1997, you might remember, the internet had finally caught on. At the time, the most popular web browser was Netscape Navigator. It had 72% of the market, compared to Internet Explorer 3’s 18%. But then, in the October of that year, came IE4. It was much better than Navigator, and – in an action that would later see Microsoft prosecuted for antitrust violations – came with a business plan that sought to destroy the relatively tiny Netscape. This it did: by the next year, with the launch of Windows 98 and IE coming free and preinstalled, Netscape was in deep trouble. Eventually bought out by AOL, it saw its market share plummet. Today, just over 94% of all web users are working with IE.

With the fall of Netscape, and the rise of Firefox (a more appropriate name would have been Phoenix, but that’s a whole different story, as FF was originally called this), Internet Explorer has risen as the leader of the pack. But late last year, IE has been challenged. Not just by Firefox, but by Opera. Opera has always been known as that “third browser no one uses”. Actually, upon Opera 8’s release Tuesday April 19, a Slashdot user mentioned that the release would only affect a few dozen people.

In early November, Firefox 1.0 was released to much fanfare. It reached its one millionth download in less than 100 hours, proving that internet users were ready for something new. The security issues in Internet Explorer were finally being exposed as the threat they were, and with IE slow to move in updating (aside from a few “hotfixes”), Microsoft’s product was dead in the water. And then Opera did the unexpected, it cleaned up its version 7, added a few more features, and released it as Opera 8. Firefox made headlines when it reached 1 million downloads in 100 hours, Opera barely registered as newsworthy when it reached over 1 million in 96 hours.

There are three schools of thought these days when it comes to browsers, and Microsoft has the distinct advantage. Some believe that a browser ought to be packaged with the operating system, as this is the simplest for the average user. Others believe that a secure browser with “limitless” exstensibility is the way to go, a completely personalized web experience. And some, like me, prefer a browser that is preconfigured with many of those “extensions”, and is a full internet suite (meaning that it includes a mail client, a chat client, among other features). There are drawbacks to all three, and obviously the consumer must decide which is worth their time and/or money.

Internet Explorer, being fully integrated into Windows has many security problems, and the fixes are coming too few, too late. We might have a beta test version of IE7, but it’s uncertain what will be fixed, especially as it seems Microsoft is focusing more on aesthetic improvements, rather than security and usability improvements. Tabbed browsing is going to be nice, but honestly, what does it help? And, will it only be cosmetic like Firefox’s, with all the resource hungry faults? No way to say until this summer. If you’re using XP, that is. XP service pack 2, actually. There may be a version for Windows 2000, but don’t bet on it. Now if you want to upgrade Internet Explorer, you will have to purchase a new Operating System. At $200 a pop, is it really worth it?

Firefox is, to be quite honest, much better than Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much more than Internet Exploerer. Of course, there are extensions, which are kind of interesting. The problems I’ve had with extensions, though, are more than I’d rather write about. As they are not written by the Firefox development team (at least, not the majority), you have a severe quality problem. Granted, since it’s all free, the fact that it exists is a bit of an anomoly in and of itself. Now, I’m not one to knock Open Source, though I do dislike some of the Open Source zealots, and I do believe that Firefox is one of the highest standard Open Source projects ever. But there are flaws. More and more people are complaining that spyware is now able to infect Firefox, although I’m sure the developers are going to fix it within reasonable time. But give it a try, over at www.getfirefox.com , it may not be the best (in my opinion), but I do use is from time to time. I can’t criticize a product without fully using it, that’s just dishonest.

Then you have us “full internet suite” types. Now, if you were to look at my browser, you’d see what is entirely important to me. I have a clock next to my address bar, because to me, that is a very logical place, and I’m terrible with time, especially when I’m on the computer. I don’t like wearing a watch while I type, and having to look all the way down to the right corner of my monitor every few minutes is very disruptive. Also, when it comes to email, my main means of correspondence, you’ll see that I have all the tools I need to use email right next to the clock. With the click of a button, I can check my mail, or send an email. I don’t like animated pictures, or flash, so I have them disabled, yet whenever I come to a site which I’ll need one or both of these features (Fark.com’s photoshop contests, for example), I can hit F12, pull up a menu, and turn them on. And the security is to die for. I don’t have spyware problems, I have never gotten an email virus, and it is always obvious when I’m on a secure page. And, finally, I like what my friends call “brain surgeon” mode. All of my pages come up at 90% zoom. And here’s the innovative part, it doesn’t just zoom text, but all the images also. A feature to die for. It’s worth $40, it has everything Firefox has (through extensions) already implemented and fully integrated. I’d say give it a try, you might be glad you did. Even if their “mascot” is a bit silly.

Download Opera

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About Andrew Hughes

  • Netscape 8 was also released last week – worth checking out if one would like to play around with different rendering engines, and believe that the medium dictates the message.

  • Yeah, I haven’t had time to completely go through Netscape 8 yet, but I plan on writing up a review within the next few days.

  • So what specifically does Opera 8 change in the current browser space that is a quantum leap forward? I can’t see much that catches my eye.

  • They’ve cleaned up the UI (not that big of a deal, I know). It not prevents phishing through Internationalized Domain Names, support for gmail and other sites requiring xmlhttprequest, and user javascript (some geek tool that I don’t use too often). Then there’s the voice function, now you can browse by using a microphone (interesting…). But, aside from that, it’s just a repackaged Opera 7, which is why 7’s registration codes work with 8.

  • matt

    firefox owns all other browsers

  • glitched

    Opera rocks! Its my browser of choice followed by IE and lastly Firefox. I’ve gone through several versions of Firefox and their name changes, but found myself going back to IE. I’ve found Firefox (including the latest version) to be slow, and the fanboy-ism is downright annoying. IE is way faster,and so is Opera minus the security problems. The F12 toggle is waay cool, and everything just works, and works real well and fast!

  • Tyler

    Opera is one of the coolest things ever with a feature called mouse gestures. I don’t know if the other browsers have it, but I don’t think they do. Mouse gestures let you do tons of stuff with a flick of the mouse, for example, you hold the right button and go down and up and let go pretty fast, and you open a new page. If you click right and then left, you go back, if you click left then right, you go forward. It is so conveniant.

  • OK – I’m running Opera 8.0 now – it’s not bad – but not very different, as yet. They have continued the age-old tech tradition of messing with words, using ‘page’ to refer to ‘tab’.

    Will tell you how this browser pans out in a while

  • I fell in love with tabbed browsing.

  • Well, it’s not really tabs, actually. Long story, but look up Multiple Document Interface. That’s what Opera uses.

  • Well, it’s not really tabs, actually. Long story, but look up Multiple Document Interface. That’s what Opera uses.

  • great, the comments section choked a little, and i come across as an idiot.

  • HW Saxton

    Could you repeat that just one more time
    Andrew for those who missed it the first
    six times? LOL! Just kidding dude.

    It has happened to others before.

  • seems like all the other posts got modded out. Thank the good Cosmic Muffin.

  • Opera is smaller than firefox, and has more features. If you want speed and low memory/hard drive use… Operas the way to go.