This is the first of a series of articles looking into the usability of different free browsers on the web. Some are right for some people, and others are better for other people. Read these articles to determine which browser makes the most sense for you.
The first free browsers were made for the Unix/Linux operating system. This was when the Internet was a text-based entity and most activity was in what’s known as newsgroups. Then Timothy Berners-Lee created the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and the worldwide web was born. Netscape was founded shortly thereafter by Marc Andreessen, putting out the Netscape Navigator graphical web browser. Soon, Microsoft came out with its own Internet Explorer, a markedly inferior product, but because it was distributed with operating systems, it gained popularity quicker than Netscape Navigator.
A couple of years later, Apple came out with the Macintosh and the Safari web browser (also integrated with the operating system). Soon, a number of graphical browsers that had been created for the Unix/Linux environment were ported over to the Windows environment, Opera being one of the more notable products. Today, there are dozens of different web browsers available that can be used on a variety of different platforms. So, let’s take a look at a few of those that you may be more familiar with.
Browsing These 5 Free Browsers
One Heck of a Browser, But Not Well-Known
As far as I’m concerned, Opera is one of the best free browsers available — and here’s our breakdown of Opera’s features. It’s as fast and secure as any other browser, and moreso than one of the most popular browsers available. Opera was one of the first browsers that was truly platform-independent, meaning it ran on every major operating system (Unix/Linux, Windows, Apple/MacOS).
The big problem is that there aren’t really any sites that are optimized for it. Technology-wise, it has more than kept up with the pack, but nobody optimizes their websites for it, which to me is a shame.
Not Just for Apple Users Anymore
I first discovered the Safari browser on my iPod Touch. I really didn’t care much for it at the time. That was probably a carryover from the fact that I’m not really much of a fan of anything Apple. Then one day, I was asked to write a review and provide the readers with some tips about it. Writing that review and reading through the various help pages, seeing what the browser can do, convinced me that Safari has now actually become one of my favorite free browsers.
However, it has the same problem that Opera has. Namely, that everybody out there with a webpage is optimizing their websites for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and, to a lesser extent, Google’s Chrome, and forgetting browsers from any other vendor.
Fast, Secure, But Still Having Growing Pains
Chrome started life with the idea of being smaller, less memory intensive, and less open to attacks like the ones on Firefox and Internet Explorer. To a very large extent, it succeeded very well in what it set out to do. Then something happened. Google decided they wanted to try to compete with IE and Firefox, instead of being a stripped-down alternative. They started adding features and allowing others to create add-ons/plug-ins for it.
Now, it’s just as feature-rich and fast as Firefox, but, like Safari and Opera, not many web designers optimize their pages for it, so it does great on some pages, especially when streaming video, and blunders about on others, like many flash-intensive pages. Here’s a better breakdown of my review of Google’s Chrome browser.
The 600-lb. Gorilla in the Sandbox
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is probably the most well-known of all the free browsers available. Being completely subjective, it’s an Ok browser product, but I don’t like it. It’s too slow for my taste, lags behind the others on streaming video, and has too many security issues for my tastes. Security issues that even a really good firewall like mine can’t always help with.
However, most web designers design their sites to work best with it, so I’m stuck using it for some of my daily work. As an example, I answer auto repair questions for a different website. That website lets me use a subscription to an automotive reference site that only works with Internet Explorer. So, I’m stuck using it when I work for that site.
The Answer to Security and Speed Concerns
Mozilla’s Firefox (and the project’s Waterfox) is the best all around web browser available. It’s got the best security features built-in, without having to tweak anything. It’s also two to three times as fast as IE. Additionally, there’s a huge volume of add-ons that give the browser added functionality. Look at the screenshot above. On the address line, you’ll see a flag. That’s an add-on that tells me the numeric address, host country of the site, and the country where the server is located. None of the other browsers have that kind of functionality.
The five free browsers I’ve listed above are by no means the only ones available. These are just the ones with larger followings and that are available for a multitude of operating systems. Most of the others are only available for the iPhone/iPad, Macs, Windows, or Linux/Unix, so I didn’t list them.