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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Browsers, browsers

On the heels of Microsoft's release of Internet Explorer 7 last week, the Mozilla Foundation yesterday released the newest version (2.0) of its increasingly popular Firefox Browser. IE7 and Firefox2: good times in the browswer world.

I've been using the IE7 browser for quite some time, and have written about it a little bit before. I've also long been a fan of Firefox, though its much-touted "tabbed browsing" advantage was mitigated even in IE6 if one used the MSN toolbar (which included tabbed browsing). IE7 marks a drastic improvement over IE6 and has been the superior browser, in my opinion, for the past few months (while stillin beta and as a release candidate). Yesterday, I downloaded and took a quick look at Firefox2 to compare the two. My quick take: the two browsers are now, for the most part, at parity. Each has some unique strengths/advantages, but both deliver a great web browser with the bells and whistles we've come to expect from our browsers: better security, better privacy controls, tabs, tabs, tabs, and better integration with RSS, etc.

Here is my quick comparison:

Firefox2 has changed to place the 'close' button on each individual tab, just like IE7. Verdict: Parity.

Anti-phishing filters abound; IE uses Microsoft's back-end, FF uses a community back-end or Google (user selects). I'm not religious about my phishing monitor/provider, so verdict: Parity (with slight advantage to MS, given the relative size of its installed base, meaning more data points to detect bad sites).

RSS integration
IE7 does a great job integrating RSS feeds into the browser. It makes subscribing to an RSS feed easy, simply, and presents your feeds in a nice, clean, easy-to-consume format. FF uses its "Live Feeds" still, though it now also allows one to select another RSS reader, including Google Reader, BLogliens, My Yahoo!, or a local RSS client reader. RSS Feeds are important to me, as I use tham all the time, and I think on this one the folks in Redmond got it right. Advantage: Internet Explorer. (Though I would like to see IE take a cue from FF and add the ability to select another reader if you so desire.)

Add-ins, aftermarket ecosystem
This is where Firefox shines, has shone, and continues to have advantage. The neat little add-ins and bells & whistles gadgets that one can add to the browser (my favorite is the one which logs in and checks all of my gmail accounts for me, simultaneously), as well as the skins or themes that customize the look, feel, and browser behavior. If you like to tinker and fiddle and add these little add-ins, the advantage lies with Firefox. Advantage: Firefox.

On balance, both browsers provide strong, predictable browsing experiences. Users will have a slight learning curve with both, especially with IE's removal of its familar menu items up top (just hit 'Alt' and they magically re-appear. The result, of course, is more visible on-screen real estate), but you'll be up and running in no time and installing either should preserver your settings from its predecessor. If you're switching, you may have to import some of your favorites and settings from one to the other.

Also bear in mind that this is all Windows-specific. If you're browsing on your Mac, the conventional wisdom seems to be that Firefox is the browser of choice (over Apple's Safari browser, your one viable alternative). I don't know Safari as well, so no comment from me. Linux? Go Firefox.  

Bottom line: Whichever you prefer, Internet Explorer or Firefox: download the latest version today, it is definitely worth it.

Get Internet Explorer 7 here

Get Firefox 2 here

I'd love to hear what you think!

Oh, and check out the cake that the Internet Explorer Team sent to the developers at the Mozilla Foundation. Nice to see the show of respect and esteem between the groups.


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