by August 4, 2005 0 comments



Browser Wars hot up as more feature rich browsers hit the market. We evaluated a few of them, namely IE, Firefox,
Mozilla, Netscape and Avant Browser

Browser Wars? ‘You mean they’re back!’-might be the first question that crops up in your mind after reading the heading of this article. Well, we had predicted their revival in August 2002 when Mozilla 1.0 was released. Firefox was still in beta at that time (under a different name) and since then it has crawled out of being geeks’ toy to something that others can use. And then, over this period of time, IE’s market share has also taken a hit. So browser wars are definitely back, and there are many other strong contenders in the field other than the three we’ve mentioned. Here, we’ve covered the major ones, and the key features they support. 

Internet Explorer 6
This browser has many features to its credit. It was among the first few browsers to support CSS1, DHTML, Web accessories, Flash and ActiveX, and many others. Most of these features remain hidden from the user, so they never realize they’re there. Unfortunately for IE, its vulnerabilities do get highlighted . That’s because being the most popular and widely used has its own disadvantages. While the Windows XP SP1 has patched a significant number of vulnerabilities, more keep coming. There’s no end to that, so the best way to protect yourself is to keep your system always updated. Thankfully, the browser now supports much wanted features like pop-up and advertisement blocking. On the features front, IE is also well supported by third-party developers in the form of various toolbars and the likes. It has well documented APIs for extending it. It has a COM based component structure for embedding other applications in it. The recently introduced MSN toolbar supports tabbed browsing. Microsoft also claims to have fixed the long history of security issues associated with ActiveX controls and VB Script in IE with
the recent patches. 

Firefox
The most striking difference between IE and Firefox is the latter’s support for out-of-the-box tabbed browsing. Multiple Web pages are much easier to handle (for most) with a tabbed interface. For example, middle clicking on a link quietly opens it in the background in a new tab. This feature is
especially useful when you’re looking through search results, allowing you to have multiple ‘candidate pages’ load in the background as you continue to browse the results. Up next are extensions. These are third-party software that fit in snugly with the browser and extend the functionality beyond its core group of responsibilities. Be it blocking ads, customizing view of Google’s home page, viewing weather information or Gmail notifier-if there’s something that your browser doesn’t do by default that you would like it to do, chances are there’s an extension out there that’ll work for you. This approach allows Firefox to retain a small core while keeping the ‘feature hungry’ users happy, ie, no unnecessary ‘bloat’ for those who’ll never use a particular feature.

Firefox offers built-in RSS support to its users

Built-in pop up window blocking and RSS-support, managing cookies and a search box (that allows you to add your 
favorite search engines/sites) are other features that ship with it by default. A basic download manager that allows you to 
resume downloads is thrown in for good measure as well. You can customize the look and feel of Firefox with one of the 
many available themes (think skins). It also throws in an ‘import wizard’ that
imports bookmarks, history, cookies and the likes from Internet Explorer to help you make a switch.

Opera 8
Opera supports almost all of Firefox’s features like tabbed browsing, password manager, integrated searching, pop-up blocking, skins (themes), etc. The latest
version even supports voice-controlled browsing. It adds other features like built-in mail and IRC clients, controlling the browser with mouse gestures and a session manager that allows you to (say) save the set of Web pages you’re currently browsing at shutdown and continue where you left next morning. (It might be worth pointing out that you can grab a Firefox extension that achieves the same effect.)

The Opera mail client includes a feed manager (to manage RSS feed subscriptions), a mailing list organizer as well as a news (NNTP) reader. Other interesting features are: download manager as well as Opera’s use of the address bar to provide 
detailed information about the progress as a page loads up, such as the number. of images loaded/ total no of images on the page, etc. Ships with an import wizard as well.

Avant Browser
This is amongst the most popular of the browsers that are built on top of the IE core and use IE’s engine for rendering, etc. It adds the features that the core IE lacks, like tabbed browsing, download manager and RSS support. It also supports Opera like sessions out-of-the-box as well as the facility to automatically reload all/selected Web pages periodically. This makes it a very good choice for those who depend on the IE core for web applications and the likes at work place and want some of the features mentioned above.

Internet
Explorer 6
Pros Cons
  Integrates
well with the OS
Long
history of security related issues, no tabbed browsing by default
Firefox Tabbed
browsing, RSS support, extensible, lack of support for AciveX and
VBS makes it less vulnerable than IE to malicious code.
What
makes Firefox secure, lack of ActiveX and VBS support (though the
former can be achieved with an extension), can be bit of a downer
for those using web apps based on either or a combination of these
technologies in the workplace. Not the most memory efficient browser
of the lot.
Opera
8
Tabbed
browsing, RSS support, features an integrated mail/ news client.
More efficient memory usage than Firefox.
Opera
doesn’t support ActiveX/VBS either so it has the same
advantages/disadvantages as Firefox in that respect. The only other
downer is the fact that it is ad-supported unless registered (USD 39
for a single license as of going to print).
Avant
Browser
Tabbed
browsing, download manager, RSS support, uses IE’s core and thus
“integrates” better with windows.
Security
risk same as that of IE as it uses the IE core
Mozilla Tabbed
browsing, extensible, the application suite includes a fully
featured (standalone) email/ news client
Doesn’t
offer anything over Firefox for those looking for only a browser.
Netscape Site
control, choice between Netscape’s & IE’s rendering engine,
Tabbed browsing, mail client, Live content
The
browser seemed to crawl as compared to other browsers on our test
machine, enough to make it almost unusable.

Mozilla
The Mozilla browser is part of the Mozilla suite, which includes a fully featured email and newsgroup client, an IRC chat client and a HTML editor, although you can do a ‘browser only’ install if you fancy. This is in contrast with Opera and Netscape who include the mail and news facility as part of the browser itself. That is, you can launch Mozilla Mail without starting the browser while the same can’t be said about the other two. Mozilla shares much of its code with Firefox and both the browsers share the Gecko core/rendering engine. Its feature set is practically the same as Firefox with support for tabs, extensions, import wizard, etc. 

Mozilla’s default look reminds you of the old Netscape. It includes a fully featured e-mail and newsgroup client

Netscape
The latest release of Netscape offers some interesting new features like site control and live content along with features such as tabbed browsing, download manager, import manager, etc. Netscape is the only browser out of the lot featured here, that provides the user with the choice of
using Netscape’s own rendering engine or IE’s for a particular site. This feature is called ‘site control’. This can be very useful as you can stick to Netscape’s rendering engine
for most sites but switch to that of IE for your banking or intranet applications. 

You can specify which engine to use for which domain. 

Live content allows users to access content such as weather in small widgets like windows that are updated at regular intervals (think Konfabulator or Mac OS X Tiger) within the browser. 

Kunal Dua

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