BOOT CAMP 483 (03/07/07)

Battle of the Browsers, part 1


For some unfathomable reason – to me at least – web browsers manage to get some PC owners rather excited, and not always in a good way… Nevertheless, the vast majority of computer users never venture beyond Microsoft Internet Explorer for the simple reasons that it is included with Windows and does almost everything that’s expected of a web browser. Whether it does these things particularly well, quickly, or securely is another matter, but if all you want is to be able to view just about any web on the Internet page then IE is the place to start.


I suspect that one of the reasons that so many computer users stick with Internet Explorer is not because of any particular loyalty or liking for it, but because they are unaware that that there are alternatives, or they think switching to another browser is difficult, complicated, expensive or will in some way affect their existing set-up, so let’s start by dispelling a few myths. Next week we’ll take a close look at what some of the popular third-party browsers have to offer.


You can have more than one web browser on your PC. At a rough guess I would say there are more than 100 browsers that run on Microsoft Windows but let’s say, for the sake of argument that 10 of them are worth investigating. Not only could you install all of them on one PC, in theory you could have all ten running at the same time, displaying different web pages.


Installing a second (or third, or fourth…) browser on your PC will not interfere with Internet Explorer or anything else on your computer. Web browsers are stand-alone programs that do not rely upon or make any changes to IE or Windows (apart from the Registry, which is normal).


You can still use Internet Explorer as normal though after installing a new browser you will usually be asked if you want to make it the default, but this is optional. Even if you say yes you can switch back by going to IE Tools > Internet Options > Programs. New browsers also offer to import Bookmarks or Favourites from IE but again this will not change any settings.


Occasionally things can go wrong but in my experience the odds of it happening on a tried and tested browser are no worse than any other type of software and can generally be put down to other, pre-existing faults, malware infections or the user not following the instructions.


Typically it only takes a couple of minutes to install a new browser. Some have a custom installation option so you can pick and choose components and add-ons. Unless you know what you are doing it’s easier to leave it on the ‘standard’ setting and there’s no need to worry about configuration or connection to the Internet; these are all taken care of by Windows and the new browser.


These days virtually all web browsers are free; the few paid-for examples tend to be fairly specialist in nature and of little interest to most web users. However, don’t let the fact that these programs are given away fool you. The companies behind these products are not doing it out of kindness or charity. Web browsers are the gateway into the Internet and the people who control them can have tremendous power and influence. They make their money in a variety of ways but normally it is at no cost or inconvenience to you. Search engines like Google pay browser companies to steer users to their site through dedicated Search boxes, and your browsing habits generate valuable data that can be sold to marketing and advertising companies. This information should be anonymous and it is highly unlikely it could be used to personally identify you but if you are worried there are plenty of ways to ensure your privacy.


The only question that remains is why, if Internet Explorer does the job, would anyone want to use another browser?  The most compelling reason is security. IE is installed on every Windows PC and it has become a huge target for an army of virus and malware writers, hackers and Microsoft baiters, eager to create and exploit security loopholes. Microsoft has its work cut out plugging the holes and in practice the risks on a PC protected by decent anti-virus and malware software, and a firewall are small, but the pressure on IE is relentless and as soon as one vulnerability is fixed another one is uncovered. Alternative browsers are no more secure than IE, in fact one or two of them have some serious problems, but they are much less prone to attack for the simple reason that they are on fewer PCs so it is much harder for infections to be distributed and spread.


If that’s not a good enough excuse then how about all the extra knobs and buttons?  Internet Explorer, even in its latest incarnation, still looks and feels a bit old fashioned and I suspect you will be very pleasantly surprised by the huge variety of clever and interesting features available on third-party browsers.   


Next Week – Alternative Browsers





The core components in a software application



Malicious or intrusive software, (aka spyware, adware, Trojans, premium rate diallers etc.), often inadvertently downloaded from websites, that make adverts appear, track your on-line activities or send private and personal information from your PC



A large, constantly changing collection of Windows system files containing configuration information for both the PC and programs stored on the hard disc




Whatever browser you are using some features are common to virtually all of them. Text Size is a case in point and if you find it difficult to read the small or fancy typefaces used on some web pages try this (and it works on most browsers). Hold down the Ctrl key and press the Plus (+) or Minus (-) keys on your keyboard to make the text larger or smaller. Most browsers also let you change text size using a mouse Scroll Wheel. Just hold down the Ctrl key and spin the wheel.  



© R. Maybury 2007, 2606

Search PCTopTips 



Boot Camp Index















Top Tips Index

Windows XP

Windows Vista

Internet & Email

Microsoft Word

Folders & Files

Desktop Mouse & Keyboard

Crash Bang Wallop!

Privacy & Security

Imaging Scanning & Printing

Power, Safety & Comfort

Tools & Utilities

Sound Advice

Display & screen

Fun & Games

Windows 95/98/SE/ME






 Copyright 2006-2009 PCTOPTIPS UK.

All information on this web site is provided as-is without warranty of any kind. Neither PCTOPTIPS nor its employees nor contributors are responsible for any loss, injury, or damage, direct or consequential, resulting from your choosing to use any of the information contained herein.