Updated Web Browsers: Which One Works Best?

When I checked Beta 1's memory usage on the four test sites (CNN, Netvibes, PC World, and Yahoo Mail), I discovered that the browser couldn't correctly display the Netvibes site, and also that it runs two processes on XP. Those results show that you shouldn't put much emphasis on performance tests for an early beta; nevertheless, the browser used 114MB at start and 118MB after an hour. Likewise, its 10.2-second run-through on the SunSpider test stacks up poorly against the results for Firefox 3 and for Safari 3.1--though it greatly improves on IE 7's treelike time of 50 seconds.

One of the smartest improvements in IE 8 is also one of the simplest: For any site you visit, IE will gray out all but the domain name in the address bar. This antiphishing measure makes it easy to uncover the common scammers' technique of trying to disguise the real domain in a URL that may start with something like 'www.paypal.com' and list the actual domain at the end of a string of nonsensical characters made to look like site input.

Microsoft says that it is also working to improve IE 7's phishing filter; and IE 8 continues to support EV certificates, as IE 7 does.

I'm sticking with Firefox. I use my browser for everything from word processing to story research to invoice filing, and I love being able to customize the program I use most often.

If you like to tinker, you'll probably want Firefox 3. But if you aren't, and if you don't mind trading away the ability to customize in return for a nicely polished package, you might like Safari. Just be extra cautious at potential phishing sites.

Meanwhile, Microsoft needs to move quickly if it wants to reverse the trend--steadily increasing since mid-2006, according to TheCounter.com--of users' switch to alternative browsers. Redmond must add more than Activities and WebSlices to the final version of IE 8 if it wants the updated browser to be a serious contender.

Two Free Alternatives

Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari are today's Big Three, but they aren't the only good browsers out there. Here's the skinny on two free alternatives, Flock and Opera.

To understand Flock, the self-billed social browser, picture starting with Firefox 2. Then imagine linking to sites and services like Blogger, Facebook, Picasa, Yahoo Mail and YouTube.

Then visualize custom features like a Media Bar (to search for and display pictures and videos from social networking sites), a blog editor, and a Web clipboard that can snip images, text, and links from pages for later viewing.

Wrap everything up in a new design with buttons and sidebars providing access to all of these features, and you have Flock.

Ultimately, Flock delivers little or nothing that you couldn't get from Firefox plus a bunch of add-ons. But for people who don't enjoy customizing their browser, this one offers a lot of social-networking functionality built in. In addition you can introduce Firefox and custom Flock extensions, though not all Firefox add-ons will work.

Flock says that it aims to deliver patches via automatic updates within 48 hours of Mozilla's releasing them for its browser. One note of caution: By default, the Flock browser collects anonymous usage data, but you can turn off that option.

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