For the better part of the past decade Microsoft's Internet Explorer Browser has dominated the online surfing world. And with good reason, as it was well integrated with Windows, especially once Windows XP became available, and it was generally reliable in displaying nearly any page on the Web, if not especially fast.
In the past year or so, however, Microsoft's dominance has shown some cracks as Version 7 of Internet Explorer was released with less than universal applause. Meant to compliment Windows Vista, IE 7 implemented a wide range of additional security features that many users found annoying.
IE 7 was also found to be slower and buggier by many users, and even after being offered as a “high-priority” download by Microsoft's Windows Update, many users uninstalled IE7 and went back to IE6, which is often seen as being more reliable and easier to use with Windows XP.
Although Web browser usage statistics vary widely by source, a number of Web browsers now offer a significant alternative to Internet Explorer, and for at least some users will load pages faster and more reliably than IE 7.
By far the most popular of the browser alternatives is Firefox, which was developed from the Mozilla project, an Open Source browser that can trace its roots in part back to the popular Netscape browser of the 1990's.
While Netscape was eventually acquired by AOL, and finally announced earlier this year that it would effectively close its doors, Mozilla began development of what eventually became Firefox in earnest in 2002.
Firefox began to first be generally noticed in 2004, and has since gone on to achieve a market share of around 18%, according to the latest statistics from MarketShare by Net Applications. Internet Explorer's various versions come in at around 75%, according to the same source.
Firefox and Mozilla also offer Thunderbird, a free e-mail application that competes with Microsoft's Outlook Express and Windows Live Mail. Both applications can be found at www.mozilla.com.
Apple released its Safari Browser for the Mac in 2003, and subsequently a Windows version was released in 2007.
While the initial Windows release of Safari was found to have considerable bug problems, Apple has continued development, and the latest version is considered to be more reliable.
Part-time Mac users, as well as users of Apple's iTunes music service will likely appreciate the browser's interface and speed.
Apple's Steve Jobs has trumpeted Safari's speed versus other Windows browsers, but most tests report little functional speed difference between it and other popular browsers in everday use. Safari can be downloaded from Apple's Web site at www.apple.com.
A fourth browser choice, and one deserving more attention, is the Norwegian-developed Opera. While Opera has been around for more than ten years, its most recent Version 9 offers speed, ease of use, and some useful features including a page loading indicator that shows how large a page is, and whether a page has frozen during loading. Opera 9 also maintains the useful Stop/Refresh button Microsoft moved in IE 7. Opera also makes a free browser that is extremely useful in many Web-enabled cell phones, as well as browsers for game and other platforms. You can download Opera free at www.opera.com.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at email@example.com.