Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Best Free Web Browser

Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) is a competent browser with enough features to meet the needs of most users but is difficult to recommend due to on-going security concerns. In the past IE has been a focus for security attacks and there is little to suggest this will change with the release of IE7. Additionally, Microsoft have a poor track record for speedily fixing IE defects and this has left users open to drive-by attacks and other forms of zero-day exploits.

There are several excellent alternatives with the new Mozilla Firefox V2 a solid first choice. It's safer than IE, so safe in fact that many users have reported no spyware infections since they started using the product. It's also browses a tad faster than IE, is very stable and is more standards compliant. The program loads slower than IE but once running, it positively zips along. With tabbed browsing and over 2000 free extensions (add-ons) that allow you to customize your experience, it provides most users with a major surfing upgrade. Firefox is now my everyday browser though I still leave IE on my PC for the occasional web site that's designed around IE's non-standard features.

An equal first choice is Opera. It's a speed demon; probably the fastest of all the common browsers. But it's much more than that; it's full featured, standards compliant and safe. Just as Firefox is extensible through add-ins, Opera can be enhanced using Widgets, though there are not nearly as many of these available as Firefox extensions. Then again, it doesn't need as many extensions as a lot of the features added by Firefox add-ins are already available built into the standard Opera browser. There's just so much to like about Opera V9 that you could easily create a case that it's better than Firefox. Indeed, if I could get an Opera replacement for some of my key Firefox add-ins, I'd probably switch.

Users who don't want to drift too far from the Microsoft stable can get some of the feature advantages of Firefox and Opera by using one of the many customized shells for Internet Explorer such as Maxthon and Avant. Their main selling feature for these products used to be tabbed browsing but now that this is available in IE7 it's hard to create a case for their general recommendation. Still if you need a specialized feature they are worth considering. On the downside these shells share most of the same security problems as IE as they utilize the IE engine.

Last but not least is the K-Meleon browser, a slimmed down cousin of Firefox that's optimized for Windows. Of the four browsers I use regularly on my different PCs, K-Meleon is the quickest loading and along with Opera, the fastest for surfing. On the downside there are only a limited number of add-ons and plug-ins available so you are pretty well limited to the features available in the standard product. If you are the type of person who prefers performance to bells and whistles you should definitely try K-Meleon.

Download Them:

Mozilla Firefox (5.6MB)
Opera (4.6MB)
Maxthon (1.9MB)
AvantBrowser (1.86MB)
K-Meleon (6MB)

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