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Check out these browsers!

February 23, 2005 12:52 IST

Getting irritated with Internet Explorer (IE)? Or has it got corrupted and you have to wait till Microsoft releases IE 7, which chairman Bill Gates says he will do soon? Don't tear your hair out. Just switch to other browsers.

There's Mozilla Firefox from the Netscape family. Or try Opera. They're free and can be downloaded easily from the Net.

Techie writers have gone ga-ga over Firefox, developed by the Mozilla Foundation, an offshoot of Netscape (whose Netscape Navigator was driven out of the market by IE).

But Opera has its own small band of fans. Developed by Norwegian company, Opera Software ASA, the first browser, Opera 2.1 was launched in 1996 and its latest version is Opera 7.5.

So what's making people switch? Various reasons. This writer had to shift to Opera and Firefox after a possible spyware attack messed up IE. IE cannot be deleted and replaced.

Though it comes with an uninstall option, IE doesn't get uninstalled, as Anish Mathew, proprietor of Zerada Softtec, a New Delhi-based complete solutions company, found.

Mathew discovered this when he uninstalled a client's corrupted IE and tried installing a lower version of IE, only to get the message that the operation couldn't be carried out because a higher version of IE already existed in the computer.

Networking and software engineer Gurvinder Singh had a similar experience. The only other option is to get your vendor to re-install the entire Windows package, a bothersome exercise. It's easier to switch.

Not everybody is shifting loyalties out of compulsion. Some are doing so out of choice, with the vulnerability of IE to attacks by virus, worm and spyware as well as the speed of other browsers being the most common reasons for change.

Deepak Maheshwari

IE's vulnerability is something even Microsoft doesn't deny, with Gates promising that the IE7 will have stronger built-in security features. But Deepak Maheshwari, secretary, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), feels this criticism could be a tad overdone.

"There could be vulnerabilities in the software but nothing is foolproof," he points out, adding, "the extent to which a system can be exploited also depends on how commonly used it is."

More people, he reminds us, are trained in Microsoft and therefore there are more people who can hack into it. He doesn't rule out a scenario in the future where other browsers become more popular and, therefore, more susceptible.

Incidentally, Maheshwari, personally, was a Netscape fan who gradually switched to IE only because it was part of the operating system, and has been "flirting" with Firefox after reading flattering reviews of it.

He finds Firefox faster and breezier.

Faster browsing is a factor that has won Firefox and Opera many admirers. Singh uses Opera frequently, though he still swears by Netscape which, he insists, is the fastest among all.

Echoing him are Deepak Sharma, proprietor of Digital Zone, a franchisee for internet service providers (ISPs) who also uses Opera very often along with IE, and Mathew of Zerada Softtec.

Mathew, too, continued using Netscape long after it lay down arms in the battle with IE, but switched to IE because that's what most of his clients used.

The time taken by Firefox to initialise, says Maheshwari, is faster. That's true of Opera as well. IE, explains Singh, will show a, say, 10 KB page only after it has uploaded 7 KB. Opera, on the other hand, starts showing elements of the page even after 2 KB.

"Techies may appreciate this but for the lay user of IE accustomed to seeing the whole page at one go, seeing bits and pieces of the page as it uploads gives the impression that Opera is slower," he notes.

Indeed, for those who've been using only IE, Opera can take a while to get used to because the look is totally different. Firefox's looks, on the other hand, are very similar to IE and diehard IE users find transitioning to it easier than switching to Opera.

Downloads are also faster in both Opera and Firefox, which have inbuilt download managers keeping a record of downloads. If the thread gets broken while downloading, says Sharma, Opera picks up from where it was left off, unlike IE where the download resumes from the beginning.

What's winning the new browsers a lot of fans are a number of features that enable surfers to customise their browser. The option of using tabbed browsing -- allowing one to open multiple pages within the same window -- is one of them.

Many users find this very convenient and it also does not clutter up the desktop. But those brought up on IE, and those for whom using ALT+Tab to switch between windows is a reflex action, may find this irritating. In that case, they can choose the separate windows option.

Allowing you to block irritating pop-ups is another boon. Opera gives a range of options while Firefox has only two: you either block all pop-ups or specify the sites in which you want to allow pop-ups.

Both Firefox and Opera have a search taskbar next to the address bar, with a drop box to choose different search engines. Firefox also allows the user to add a search engine to this taskbar.

IE has only five choices for text size while both Opera and Firefox have unlimited zoom. Keep hitting CTRL+ to increase and CTRL- to decrease by 100 per cent at a time. In Opera, merely hitting + and -- increases or decreases the text size by 10 per cent at a time.

What also works for Opera and Firefox is that they take up less disk space. But that, says Maheshwari, may not be too much of an issue these days with even ordinary users having huge amounts of disk space on their PCs.

But it may not be wise to dump IE totally. A majority of the sites, point out Sharma and Maheshwari, are designed with IE in mind and there are sites that do not open in Firefox at all.

Certain versions of Opera just don't work in sites where clicking on a link opens another window. Then the user needs to switch to IE. And IE, says Mathew, is still the best for viewing sites using Java.

The best choice? Keep all three. Vive la difference.
Seetha in New Delhi