Time to Browse for a Browser?
by Diane S. Kendall
I did a very informal survey over the last few weeks and discovered that very few people know that they have an alternative when it comes to a Web browser.
"A WHAT?" most people questioned in return when asked about their favorite Web browser.
"You know, like Microsoft's Internet Explorer." I explained.
"Oh that," often was the reply. Followed by comments like "It crashes." "Or it never seems to work right." "I'm always fighting viruses because of it." Most everyone seemed very surprised when I mentioned there were alternatives.
This reaction wasn't surprising to me. Microsoft still has a pretty tight hold on the Internet browser market. According to WebSideStory, an independent site that monitors all things Internet, as of April 2005, Internet Explorer holds just slightly less than 90% of the browser market. That certainly includes almost all of the people in my informal sample and obviously many others who don't know that there are six major Web browsers out there.
Most people also have not heard that Microsoft has made a very controversial announcement that it is going to offer new versions of Internet Explorer only to people running Windows XP SP2 or systems coming down the road. People who are running older versions of Windows or those who use a Macintosh are going to have to look elsewhere for a browser with up-to-date features.
So what else is out there and why would you, especially as a parent, want to think about browsing for a browser? Here's my quick take on the big six:
Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 6 - Everybody has Explorer, but it's showing its age. Explorer 6 for Windows XP SP2 does come with a pop-up blocker, which is a parent positive. But hackers love to go at it and Explorer does suffer from chronic security holes which means that viruses and other Internet slime can slip though, especially if you have a child who is doing a lot of downloading off the Internet. This latest version is also only for Windows XP SP2 users. Technical support also comes with a hefty price tag. Good news is that it not the only browser in town.
Mozilla Foxfire - If you are running Windows or Mac OS X, the very cool and streamlined Mozilla Foxfire might be the answer to your family's browser woes. It's quite stable and the Mozilla people have been prompt at shoring up any holes making it a more secure, and therefore, family-friendly browser. There is a pop-up blocker and customizable menu bars make it easier to set up an "approved" site list for younger users. It does not support ActiveX, but unless you are running a technical business out of the house that shouldn't be any problem. I haven't had any trouble getting it to open any family-oriented or homework savvy sites. It's free and you can read more about it, download it and try it out at http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/
Netscape 8 - Years ago most everyone had both Internet Explorer and Netscape on their computers, but Explorer at one point seemed to eclipse Netscape. Now a new and revitalized Netscape has been released by AOL Time Warner and it's worth a second look. It has an intuitive interface and secure browsing is an obvious priority. When you download it youíll be asked for your zip code, but that's not a marketing gimmick. Instead it helps get the live weather and news feed to the home page set up. There are also safeguards to combat phishing attacks (unsolicited email come-ons) triggered by Internet surfing. One caveat for parents Ė it installs AOL AIM (instant messaging) on your computer whether you want it or not. It's also only for Windows (98- XP SP). It's free and you can get the download at http://browser.netscape.com/ns8/.
Apple Safari Ė Hands down this is the best web browser for Macintosh OS X users and unfortunately, only Mac users. An even newer version of Safari was released with Tiger the latest upgrade to Mac OS X and speed is the name of the game. The only drawback is that some sites are coded for Internet Explorer only or the other Windows only browsers and are unreadable in Safari. But if you are inundated daily with bugs and viruses from the Internet and your kids download incessantly, you might think about making the switch to Macintosh hardware to take advantage of the markedly decreased risk of getting infected. It can be a real headache avoider. For more info on Safari (itís free!), see the Apple site at http://www.apple.com.
Opera 8 - If you don't mind paying $39 for a browser that has a few more bells and whistles to it (there is a free version with LOTS of advertising), then Opera 8 may be what you are looking for. There is not much to recommend it to families unless you are a family of techies looking to be on the cutting edge of web browsers or are trying to avoid Explorer. You can download it for Windows or Mac at http://www.opera.com/download/
Deepnet Explorer - Technically, Deepnet Explorer uses the same browser engine as Internet Explorer, so itís really not all that different from Explorer and shares many of the same security concerns. So if security is a concern, stick to Foxfire or Netscape. What it does have is an integrated P2P (peer-to-peer) engine in it that could make it easier for your child to share illegal music or movies with others on the Internet. A P2P engine certainly can be used to share legal content such as school projects online, but if your child suddenly becomes enamored with this browser, you might want to check into how they are using it and what for. You can download it for free for Windows (98 to XP SP) at http://www.deepnetexplorer.com/download.asp