BROWSER WARFARE: WHICH ONE PWNS THEM ALL?

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By Alex Hamlyn

The internet can be a scary place. It’s filled with pornography, sites that redirect you to pornography and sites that help you find pornography. There are also some sites that allow you to connect with the global community, buy anything you could ever want and look at funny pictures of cats. All that wouldn’t be possible without the web browser.

With the recent release of Google Chrome, there are now four mainstream browsers vying for your attention: Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Google Chrome.

Microsoft’s IE (Internet Explorer) has long been the reigning champion of web browsers. However, the Microsoft juggernaut hasn’t been able to keep up with the innovations of more nimble companies like Mozilla and Google.

So maybe you want to change from your old standby browser, but you’re afraid to blindly pick a new one? In that case, allow us to drop these programs into the virtual arena and see who comes out on top.

Stability

A stable program is the BMW of the computer world — it’s a smooth ride and works well in almost any situation. An unstable program is like the Ford Pinto — awkward and tough to control and likely to explode into a fiery mess at the slightest bump.

IE is probably the most versatile when it comes to viewing web pages, as most pages are still designed with it in mind. Some web pages simply need IE or else they won’t be displayed properly. But other than Safari, which generally doesn’t work that well on Windows, IE has a greater tendency to crash.

Safari, while much more stable than IE, seems to have problems understanding websites from time to time. Sifting through Google to find research for a paper and being shown pages of incomprehensible gibberish instead of an article on Hamlet is a pain, and you probably need to have Firefox on your computer to view it anyway. Chrome is unavailable for the Mac and using IE for a Mac is an exercise in sadomasochism.

Security

No matter how bland the sites are that you visit, at some point you’re bound to run into some malicious software in the internet wilderness.

Firefox comes out on top here. It has well integrated pop-up blocking and other anti-spyware software and is generally well designed to keep it from getting exploited by hackers. Microsoft is pretty quick about IE security updates, but the difference between two days and a week in cyber-time is huge.

Both IE and Chrome have started using a system that should help make them more secure. In layman’s terms, each tab open in a browser runs independent of the other tabs. This means slightly more memory use, but also it keeps your whole browser from crashing because of one problem page. Once again, very handy when doing research and one of the pages you have tabbed tries to help you lose everything you spent a half hour looking up.

Chrome also offers a nice feature called the “incognito window” which lets you browse pages without it saving any history or data from those pages. You can keep your private emails safe if you’re using a shared computer, or you can look at filthy/disturbing things to your heart’s content without worrying about leaving a trail. A similar feature is planned for the other browsers and Firefox has an add-on available for download.

Ease of use

A big part of being easy to use is working quickly. Chrome wins this category hands down because it works quickly. Both in start up time and page loading, Chrome is lightning fast. Firefox is the next fastest, while IE and Safari are basically tied for third.

Chrome also wins when it comes to having a clean, simple interface. The interface is the actual program window you can see around the page that you’re viewing. Firefox actually lags behind the rest as it has the most old fashioned bar at the top of the browser. It’s cluttered and has more options than 98 per cent of users need. Safari, IE and Chrome use a more streamlined and minimal window design. But Chrome does something really neat that none of the other browsers really do well yet: searching from the address bar.

Overall

In the end, we’d like to declare Firefox the winner by a nose. It’s simply the most stable, secure and adaptable browser and the best alternative to IE. However, don’t be surprised if by this time next year Chrome is leading the pack. It does most of what Firefox can do and it can do it faster. It just needs a bit more development to be a serious contender.

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