May 4, 2005

Better Internet Browser Programs

Opera and Mozilla Firefox BrowsersIt's very usual for people who surf the Internet not to know that the program they use to surf the Web is called a browser. After all, if your computer has the Windows operating system, there's nothing about the big blue "e" icon on your desktop that screams "I am a browser!".

In all truth, that particular browser — Microsoft's Internet Explorer or "IE", as it is referred to — is not particularly safe for computing and Web surfing needs for a variety of reasons. In the first place, Windows is the most common operating system in the world, making it a prime target for hackers. Secondly, Windows has security issues, and plenty of them. Third, Internet Explorer is built right into the latest Windows operating systems, meaning that if something goes wrong with IE, it can affect your whole computer.

As well, if you are using Outlook or Outlook Express as your email program, parts of IE are used to display the pictures you receive in email. This doesn't sound threatening until we learn that, in October of 2004, there was a (legitimate) scare with respect to computer viruses being embedded in certain types of picture files. So, given that Outlook uses IE to display picture files, and IE is tied into the operating system, you see the problem.

In truth, the major browser manufacturers have been engaged in an intense marketshare war for years, but the facts are that there are other browsers, that some are technically better than IE, that most have far fewer security holes than IE, and that you can have more than browser on your computer at a time. Unlike IE, these browsers will not be tied into your Windows XP operating system — and some are faster and display websites more in compliance with Internet standards than does IE.

I'll note that we never use IE except to test websites. My personal favorite is Opera, but Firefox has gained about 10% of the marketshare:

  • Mozilla Firefox browser — free download
  • Mozilla Thunderbird email program — free download
  • Opera browser and email program — free download with ads; $39 without ads

(If you want to continue to use IE, I'd suggest learning how to protect your computer, if you don't know already.

Happy and safe surfing.

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