Purchase Story

Internet Browsers

Computer Column #350

Many of us spend part of every day staring at a web browser on a computer, perhaps buying, selling, or researching antiques or maybe just checking the news and gossip. We all have our favorite browsers, yet browsers are still evolving. New features are worth taking a look at.

Fortunately, most browsers are free, and multiple browsers can coexist on a computer. They can be tried and compared. Unfortunately, each added browser will ask if you want to make it your default browser. Say no unless you are ready for a permanent change.

Icons of six browsers on this writer’s Windows 10 computer used to compare how different browsers rendered his websites.

The World Wide Web became a major factor in the international scientific community around 1990. Most scientists used Unix computers. With help in part from the U.S. government, urged by Senator Al Gore, a browser with a graphical user interface instead of plain text was developed. It was called Mosaic. The designers later went private and dubbed their browser Netscape Navigator. By 1994 it was available for Apple Macintosh and the first Microsoft Windows computers.

Netscape Navigator dominated the browser market and was used by virtually all World Wide Web fans. We, old-timers, remember marveling at its capabilities and cursing at its quirks. A few years later Microsoft created Internet Explorer and packaged it with Windows. Soon it was the dominant browser. The “browser wars” were on and still are today.

For many years browsers were rated on their ability to understand the many dialects of HTML (hypertext markup language), which is used to build websites. Today HTML is more uniform, and browsers share standard rendering logic to display web pages. Now comparisons are made on speed of display, protection from malignant websites, and customizability through add-ons. Speed is a common selling point, but how often do you twiddle your thumbs waiting for a website to load? It is a little like zero-to-60-mph claims for autos.

The default search engine is also a comparison factor. If words not recognizable as a web address are entered in the address bar of a browser, the browser uses a search engine to find likely websites. By default, MS Edge and MS Internet Explorer use Bing, another Microsoft creation. Google Chrome uses Google for obvious reasons. For a few years Mozilla Firefox used Yahoo because Yahoo provided financial help to Mozilla. However, almost all browsers allow choosing a default engine. Use a search engine to find out how to set the search engine on a particular browser.

A few of the most popular browsers and one new one will be reviewed, starting with the most common. All are free. Links are listed below.

Google Chrome(Win, Mac, Android, Linux, iOS, and Chrome OS) is currently the most popular browser. It is fast, good-looking, and easy to use. It evolved as the default browser for Google’s Chrome operating system for the Chromebook computers popular with students. Today it is available for almost all operating systems. Add-ons were sparse but are increasing rapidly. Installation on Linux requires some computer smarts, but Linux users usually have them.

Microsoft Internet Explorer (Win) has been a prominent browser for two decades. It came packaged with every version of Windows. Constantly improved, it is still popular though a bit slow and bloated with features. It might even be called stodgy. Some features are useful only to website designers. Its security is excellent. Internet Explorer is officially obsolete but is installed on many existing Windows 7 and Windows 10 computers still in use. A Macintosh version was once available but is no longer.

Microsoft Edge (Win, coming for Android and iOS) is the new browser built for Windows 10. Its features were sparse when first issued, but it has been improved with every Windows 10 update. It is simple to use and very fast. Present popularity is low but constantly increasing. As this was written, Microsoft was releasing experimental versions of Edge for Android and iOS. Attempts to install the Android version were frustrating. It is possible that stable-release mobile versions will be available in a few months.

Mozilla Firefox(Win, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS) came close to MS Internet Explorer’s popularity for some years. It is regaining popularity with a major revision, Firefox Quantum 57.0, which is about as fast as Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. Firefox has a large number of available add-ons to change appearance, enhance security, or add features. It claims superior security.

Apple Safari (Mac, iOS) has long been the default browser for Apple Macintosh computers and iOS mobile devices. It is a good standard browser with a large following in the Apple world. Apple claims Safari is faster than any browser that can run in Windows. Macintosh users have little reason to switch; however, there are alternatives listed in a website in the links sidebar. A nice Windows version was available until about 2007.

Opera (Win, Mac, Android, iOS, and others) is a bit of an outsider. It has been around for more than 20 years and works on almost any device, including gaming consoles. It is fast and secure. Designed in Norway, it is popular in Europe and Africa, especially with those who turn up their noses at Microsoft. I have experienced one problem in Windows—Opera may slightly alter where other browsers store files downloaded from the web, which is confusing.

Vivaldi(Windows, Mac, Linux) is a new browser getting raves. Designed by a company founded by the creators of the Opera browser, it can be customized in many ways. It has built-in features for organizing links to multiple web pages. Tabs at the top of the browser page can be stacked, multiple tabbed pages can be displayed on split or tiled screens, and a flexible screenshot tool can capture parts of a screen. This might be useful to researchers and writers. The common alternative is saving multiple websites in Evernote or Microsoft OneNote for later correlation. Vivaldi is not the fastest browser.

Other browsersare available. There may be one that better suits you. Use a search engine to find “browser reviews.” Be sure the reviews are current.

Mobiledevices come with a browser. Device manufacturers take the browser seriously. The one supplied is probably the best choice. There is nothing wrong with trying other browsers for Android or iOS mobiles, but they may take a lot of memory. My old Google Nexus 7 tablet handles Firefox, Chrome, and Opera Mini without a squawk, but installing an extra browser to my smartphone required uninstalling other useful apps.

For serious browsing, use a Windows or Macintosh desktop or laptop computer. Mobile browsers seldom have the features or speed of their like-named desktop versions. They may not have the security features either.

Links in Column

Google Chrome: www.google.com/chrome

MS Internet Explorer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Explorer

Microsoft Edge: www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=48126

Mozilla Firefox: www.mozilla.org

Apple Safari: www.apple.com/safari

Alternatives for Apple Macintosh: www.ashiktricks.com/best-browser-for-mac

Opera: www.opera.com

Vivaldi: www.vivaldi.com

Writer’s website: www.jnjreid.com/cdb


Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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