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There have been a ton of changes in the browser landscape recently, so it's about time we addressed the subject of browsers in a straight-forward way.

For Windows users there are 5 browsers to consider now:

  • Internet Explorer 9
  • Internet Explorer 8
  • Firefox 10
  • Chrome 18
  • Opera 11

Missing from this list are any version of Internet Explorer before 8 and Safari. If you installed an older copy of XP on your machine years ago and have never updated Internet Explorer, you're using Internet Explorer 6. IE6 is dangerous. Who says so? Microsoft. They have a website, Internet Explorer 6 Countdown, dedicated to "Moving the world off Internet Explorer 6." Safari on Windows has its own problems. It simply isn't very stable.

Browser selection is a very personal matter. At VCC, my (Toby's) default browser is Firefox, Rick's is IE9 and Michael's is Chrome. Part of the reasons we prefer what we do is in the way we use the browser. Firefox is the slowest to startup, so people who open the browser to look at one website and then shut it down aren't happy with it at all. However, it has something like 10,000 add-ons to make it perform all kinds of tricks. I use it to create webpages. The webmaster add-on tools are fabulous. No one else has anything close. At all times I have the browser open, usually on a dozen or so pages at once. Firefox is one of the fastest at bringing up sites once the browser is started, so if you only start the browser once per day, the initial slowness isn't much of a burden.

Chrome and Opera are the fastest to open, so if you are an occasional user, you'll be happier with one of these. Chrome updates in the background fairly often, but they do it so you hardly notice. Opera updates less frequently, but more noticably. Both have some quite nice, easily accessible add-ons. They can't compete with Firefox in terms of numbers, but the ones they do have are mostly excellent.

Because most customers use Internet Explorer, Rick prefers to use it so he can see what the customer sees. IE certainly is less secure than the others and he risks getting more malware, but then Rick deliberately infected his work computer with the LizaMoon malware so he could write about it. We have a dozen test computers he could have used, but Rick likes living on the edge.

If you are still using Windows XP, you can't upgrade to IE9, so you're stuck with 8. But please don't use anthing earlier than that. Older Internet Explorers are so prone to malware attacks that unless you hardly ever use it, you'll get infected soon. The malware attacks are getting far more numerous and much more sophisticated. Some proprietary websites don't work well with IE9 as well. Several people who had installed IE9 have come to us and asked if we could revert to IE8 because a website that is critical to their business doesn't work with 9. IE9 has a thing called "compatibility mode" which should solve those problems.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3) is the international standards body that defines how browsers should display html. Internet Explorers before 8 were notorious for not conforming to the standards. Microsoft owned so much of the online browser market that they felt they didn't have to conform to standards. If they made their browsers work their way, the world would have to go along. And they did for a while. Microsoft at one time had more than a 90% market share. Now that they are down around 55% and sinking fast, they are forced to be more concerned with standards. IE8 is marginally compliant and IE9 is perhaps the most compliant. Interestingly, it's the conformance to standards that trips up IE9 on some sites. The don't "conform" to the former IE non-standard.

If you use one of the modern browsers you'll undoubtedly see pages that have text overwriting text or other obvious errors. The webmaster hasn't rewritten the site in years and it was originally written for IE6 or earlier. But that is changing as all the browser companies are pushing hard for users to install the latest.

What is the best browser for you will depend on how you use the Internet and what feels right for you. But hopefully, I've given you some idea of where you should start.