Web Browser Wednesday
Web browsers have been downloaded millions of times and come in a variety of flavors. There is Mozilla Firefox, Avant Browser, Opera, Internet Explorer, Flock, Maxthon, and the list goes on and on. The problem is that there are some features that you would just love to grab from one browser and put in your favorite browser. My goal here is to cover different features and list which browsers I think are the best for those features. I know there are many Firefox extensions available but I will focus more on the out-of-the-box features.
One of the most important features in a Web browser are tabs. To many people this is absolutely essential which is why Firefox and Opera have the popularity that they do. Even Microsoft realized the importance of having tabs and currently have a tab system implemented in their latest version called Internet Explorer 7.
All of the browsers that I mentioned in the introduction have some sort of tab system (well, IE6 doesn’t but IE7 will). Firefox has the ability to have features easily added with the use of extensions and Tab Mix Plus is known to be THE extension for getting the most out of your tabs. However, I still believe that out of all the Web browsers Opera is the best at handling tabs.
It has the most features that are built-in and ready to go immediately after downloading, and also has some features that you won’t find in Firefox. It can cascade or tile all of your tabs so that you can easily navigate between them which means you can truly maximize or minimize your tabs.
Another nice feature with the tabs is a trash bin. Both Opera and Firefox 2.0 Beta 1 have this feature which will let you open some of the most recently closed tabs. I have accidentally closed so many tabs before that this is definitely a needed feature for me!
Bookmarks are probably one of the most used features in a Web browser. The biggest issue is that some people have thousands of bookmarks at home but when they are at work they lose access to them. Sites like Del.icio.us conquer this problem by giving users access to their bookmarks from anywhere. There are currently Del.icio.us extensions available for Internet Explorer and Firefox but Flock has it ready-to-go immediately after installation.
After you setup your Del.icio.us account in Flock, click on the blue star to bookmark a site. Clicking on the blue star will immediately bookmark a site without any kind of prompts. If you want to add tags to the bookmark, click on the small arrow on the blue star. You will then be prompted with a dialog box that will allow you to add all the information you need.
The bookmarking system in Flock works great and no extensions/plug-ins are needed. If you don’t use Del.icio.us, you may find Flock’s built-in Shadows service more useful because it operates the same way as Del.icio.us would in Flock.
I don’t think I would have ever realized how useful spell check would be in a browser until Firefox 2.0 Beta 1 brought it to my attention. Their inline spell check acts just like the spell check in Microsoft Word and puts a red squiggly line underneath your misspelled words.
It is nice to have the inline spell check for small things that you’re writing, however, if you are writing a longer article it’s nice to have a spell check system like Flock’s. Theirs displays a dialog box and walks you through all of your misspellings so that you don’t have to scan all of the text looking for the red underline.
I would say that the perfect spell check system would offer both options much like Microsoft Word does. It will check your spelling as you sit there and type but it will also walk you through all of your spelling mistakes if you initiate a spell check.
One of the easiest ways to keep up with the news is by using RSS feeds. They let you keep track of multiple sites and watch for new articles to be posted which saves you some time and eliminates frequent check backs to websites for updated information. Firefox does not exactly have a feed reader but has a system called Live Bookmarks. The Live Bookmarks let you subscribe to a site’s RSS feed and Firefox will display “bookmarks” that link to different articles on the site. When new articles are published the bookmarks will automatically update themselves.
For some people the Live Bookmarks do not cut it. That forces people to turn to a Firefox extension to do the job, find an external reader, or use a completely different browser. Flock, Opera, Avant Browser, and Internet Explorer 7 Beta 3 all have an integrated feed reader. Out of those, I would say that the reader in Flock is the best. Besides offering a one or two-column layout, they also have many other features that give you a fully customized experience. One of my favorite features in their feed reader is the “Front Page” which provides a summary of your different feeds. It almost reminds me of going to Google News except that this is customized to display only the news sources I want!
It is always nice to be able to pick up where you left off. That is one feature I have always wanted in Windows but for now, it doesn’t look like I will get it. It is very useful in Web browsers, especially when the browser unexpectedly crashes. Firefox 2.0 Beta 1 has a built-in session restore feature but it is currently very limited. Without modifying it the session restore will only work if Firefox crashes, or you restart Firefox after installing an extension.
Opera on the other hand handles the session restore perfectly. It has multiple options that you can choose from like automatically restoring your tabs every time or maybe you want it to ask you what to do each time. Either way Opera takes care of all your session restore needs.
Searching is done so similarly between all browsers that there isn’t really one that searches any better than another. However, I would give Firefox 2 Beta 1 a small edge over the others because of the Search Engine Manager. It makes it easy to add, remove, and reorder your search engines with just a few clicks. Opera also has a similar search engine manager but Firefox makes it a bit easier to add additional search engines.
There will always be applications that manage your email like Outlook Express and Mozilla Thunderbird but I like having a Web browser that takes care of that. The great thing about having an integrated email client inside the browser is that you’re always notified of new emails immediately if your browser is open. I never have to worry about leaving Thunderbird or Outlook open to know when I get emails because my web browser is always open! Opera does a great job of handling all my emails and makes it extremely easy to respond to them with the Quick Reply box located towards the bottom of the window.
Because I am trying to stick to the out-of-the-box features I would have to say Opera is also the best for the built-in download manager. It keeps all of your downloads in a nice tab interface and also supports BitTorrent downloads. As nice as the BitTorrent compatibility may sound I have had very slow download speeds while using it.
I do feel like I have to mention that Firefox has an okay download manager as well. That aside, I prefer Firefox’s over Opera’s if I have the Download Statusbar extension installed. This extension will show all of your current downloads in its own separate bar located immediately above the Status Bar. If you do not have any downloads active then the bar will disappear.
I am sure many people will agree that the award for extensibility goes to Firefox. Mozilla has created a central location for developers to submit extensions so that other Firefox users can make their browsing experience more enjoyable. Unfortunately this is one of Opera’s downfalls which they tried to compensate for by creating widgets (The CyberNet widget is also available). While the widgets can be useful for some things they just can’t bring some of the cool features that can be found with the use of Firefox extensions.
–Site Rendering & Compatibility–
Site compatibility is one of the biggest reasons that I use Firefox or Flock (Flock is based off of Firefox’s code so it renders sites the same). While Opera does render almost all sites properly it can still be a problem for certain sites that check which browser you are using, like Google. If they find that you are not using a compatible browser then they will notify you and may not even let you use their service.
If you want to make sure that you are running the browser that is compatible with almost every site, you’ll want to use Internet Explorer. With around 80% of the world still using Internet Explorer, you will be hard pressed to find an unintentionally incompatible Web site. Firefox, however, is quickly gaining on Internet Explorer and currently has 15% of the U.S. market share. More sites are starting to make sure their sites work properly with Firefox as well.
Security can be looked at from several different angles. The first one that came to my mind was how fast bugs are fixed in a browser. It seems like Firefox and Opera both stay on top of any security-related bugs that arise. Internet Explorer, however, is always being exploited and Microsoft sometimes falls behind on releasing patches.
The other way that you can look at security is how well the browser protects the user from phishing threats. Firefox 2 Beta 1 and Internet Explorer 7 both have anti-phishing mechanisms in place to prevent users from losing valuable information. I am sure the anti-phishing feature will start to become standard in Web browsers and we will soon start to see it in Opera and more.
This is the last topic that we are going to cover! Nobody wants to use a browser that doesn’t look great and that’s why skins were developed. Once people download a browser like Firefox or Opera, one of the first things that they do is to go searching for skins (Opera Skins here and Firefox Themes here). Both browsers offer such a large assortment of themes that will take a long time for people to go through them all. The funny thing is that the number 2 theme in both the Firefox list and the Opera list make the browsers look like Internet Explorer 7. Does that mean nobody wants to use IE7 but they like the look of it?
Flock has also become highly recognized because of the unique theme they use. In fact, people started to like it so much that a Firefox theme was made to look like Flock. Kinda funny how there are themes made for a browser to make it look like another browser. Oh yeah, and there is an Opera theme to make it look like Firefox! It almost seems like a never ending circle!
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed what I have found to be the best features in multiple Web browsers. If we combine all of those features together into one simple browser, the result would be absolutely amazing. Make sure you let us know which features you want to see in a browser. Developers may see this and get a few ideas!