Most folks just use the browser that comes with their system — Internet Explorer for Windows, or Safari for Macs. A Web browser is the most important piece of software on your computer and deserves careful consideration. Just because a browser came with your computer, doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you.
You have a choice to make. Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari are the top four browsers. Each product is available for both PCs and Macs. All are free.
Browsers can be compared based on their speed, security and the extent to which they can be customized. But before we begin our comparisons, Internet Explorer users take note: “All Internet Explorer versions prior to 9 are far behind the competition in speed, security and features,” says Joe Golton, who writes a blog devoted to eliminating online distractions. “Windows 7 and Vista users can upgrade to IE 9, but users of Windows XP cannot and should adopt another browser.”
Let’s start with speed. Every year, tech organizations run head-to-head speed tests to find the fastest browser among the big four. The time browsers take to load Web pages is measured in milliseconds. Computers can detect differences, people often can’t. Results can also be misleading.
Since its launch in 2008, Chrome typically achieved the highest benchmark scores for many speed tests. “After several hours of using 10 to 20 tabs (or three to five web apps) on my Windows XP system, Chrome gets very slow and needs to be closed and restarted,” Golton said. “Not so with memory-efficient Firefox, even though it scores lower off a fresh start.”
Security is critical, but it is not a differentiator, either. IE 9 has made dramatic security improvements compared with earlier versions. Chrome is also known for its robust security and uses a method called “sandboxing” that prevents unwanted browser activity from entering a user’s computer system. Firefox and Safari employ similar methods.
The ability to tailor a browser to suit your browsing habits is what really sets one browser apart from another.
Plugins, add-ons and extensions all refer to the same tiny, free programs that work with the browser of your choice. Some changes are small, such as adding a new Gmail indicator to those that provide a secure browser within a browser, such as Cocoon.
Despite what your kids may tell you, plugins are easy to add and can make your online experience more enjoyable. You can browse the Web in privacy. You can eliminate ads. You can easily clip interesting bits of information and save them for later reference.
Microsoft offers a modest selection of add-ons in its Internet Explorer Gallery. When Windows 8 launches later this year along with IE 10, add-ons will no longer be supported in the new version.
Firefox pioneered add-ons and last month celebrated its 2 billionth from its add-ons site. When it comes to browser add-ons, Firefox can’t be beat.
Chrome offers a good selection from its Chrome Web Store. Surprisingly, Apple waited three years to launch its official extensions gallery after the launch of Safari in 2007. The selection is as good as Chrome’s.
Choose your browser and then choose your add-ons. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Clearly: Automatically turns cluttered pages into ad-free, easy to read pages. You can select from three designs: Newsprint (black and white), Night Owl (white type on black background for nighttime reading) and Notable (full color with ads removed). Clearly will also display multi-page articles on a single scrollable page. (Firefox, Chrome)
2. Pinterest: If you’ve become a Pinterest addict, the social network that is sweeping female America, the add-on installs a convenient Pin It bookmark in the toolbar of all browsers. When you see a photo you want to add, click “Pin It” and you can add it to your Pinterest account without opening Pinterest. The photo-pinning site is currently invitation only, so if you’d like to join now, email your request to email@example.com.
3. Do Not Track Plus: Blocks 125 tracking technologies that advertisers use to track your browsing behavior. Easily see what trackers are in use at each website you visit and block any or all of them. The button in your toolbar alerts you to tracking before your information is captured. Compatible with all browsers.
4. ReminderFox: ReminderFox makes sure you remember all of your important dates via easy-to-use lists, alerts, and alarms, right in your browser without the need for a separate calendar program. (Firefox only)
Bonus: Not sure what browser you’re using? You’re not alone. Google’s site will tell you and offers links to all of your browser choices. www.whatbrowser.org
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.