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Choosing a Browser: Why Should You Have to?

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/2/2006 | Internet

When you want to surf the net, you click on the blue 'e' on you desktop. That's all there is to it. Why should you have to choose a browser? And is there a choice at all? Isn't the word 'browser' synonymous with 'Internet Explorer'?

With the recent spate of browser-related security incidents all over the world, it might be useful to get to know what choices you have. Many of Microsoft's products, and most importantly the ubiquitous Internet Explorer, make use of a technology called 'ActiveX Controls'. While these are very useful pieces of software, and help to enhance many multimedia-related and other functionalities in your browser and on the desktop, they are also a huge security threat. It is extremely easy to hijack your browser by abusing one of the ActiveX interfaces, and through that security hole take over your entire computer in a matter of minutes.

In response to the innumerable viruses, worms and other exploits that have plagues Windows users in recent years, Microsoft released the Service Pack 2 for windows XP some time ago. This proposes to plug many of the security holes by imposing stricter controls over the ActiveX interface in Internet Explorer. This has met with moderate success, but still the exploits continue. Perhaps the time has come for the ordinary user to look for other choices in the field of the browser, which is one of the most essential pieces of software that we need in our everyday desktop computing.

First, take a look at Opera. This is an unbelievably small, tight, compact browser that is developed by a Norwegian company. While Internet Explorer for Windows XP is a humongous download, the latest version weighing in at nearly 100 megabytes, Opera is only a little more than 3 Mb, and offers much, much greater functionality at that! It's incredible how much usefulness the guys from Scandinavia have been able to pack into this tiny, sprightly browser. From changing the browser identification code to applying a vast range of themes and skins, from offering multiple-tabbed browsing to the simple yet elegant idea of mouse gestures, Opera has sweet surprises and wonderful easter eggs waiting for you at every turn.

And those of you who have never used anything other than Internet Explorer in your life, you will probably discover for the first time how fast your internet connection really is, for Opera doesn't have to negotiate with the great overhead of interfacing tightly with the operating system, like Internet Explorer does. You'll be surprised to see pages which took more than half a minute to be displayed fully come to life in less than five seconds!

Another equally good choice is Firefox, which is really the Netscape browser of old, reborn in a new form and under a new license. Compared to Opera, Firefox is a bare-bones browser, with only the basic functions built in. this greatly simplifies the interface, making it a perfect choice for non-expert computer users. But those of you who need more usability built in, you'll find an extensive repository of 'extensions', which add features to it. The extensions can be installed directly from within the browser, and you get to browse the features descriptions, user ratings and popularity of each extension before you choose it.

An added advantage of Firefox is that it is Free Software, and consequently its source code is publicly available. Even you can download it and find out which part does what, but even if you aren't a programmer, you have the extra assurance that thousands of hackers all around the world are looking at the code every minute, so there no place where trojans, bugs or security loopholes can hide. This is what, in fact, makes Free Software such a great choice for the security conscious.

And last but not the least, since both browsers are offered totally free of cost, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't ditch the insecure blue 'e' today and adopt one of these vastly superior products.