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Just Browsing, Thanks

Frank Ahrens

Okay, prepare to go full-metal geek: We're going to talk about Internet browsers.

Amsterdam's OneStat.com, a research firm that tracks Web use, has tossed out a study on Internet browser usage around the world, ranking them by popularity in some individual nations.

Most people, I bet, don't even think about their Internet browser: They just use the one that probably came with their computer -- most likely, Microsoft's Internet Explorer -- and as long as it opens their favorite sports site or online betting site or porn site fast enough, they're happy.

But there is a sub-culture of browser users, those for whom Internet Explorer (which they sometimes call "Internet Exploder" for its propensity to crash) isn't good enough. These are the same kind of folks for whom simple cell phone is not good enough; they must have the latest Smartphone.

Popular among the subculture are browsers named Mozilla Firefox and Opera. And Apple users have Safari. (That's what I have. I can tell you it has little discernable difference, at least to me, from Internet Explorer, but maybe I'm not fully exploiting its many fine features.)

At any rate, if you look at all the Internet users around the globe, Internet Explorer is king, used by 86 percent of all those online. Firefox is a distant second, at 12 percent.

Here in the U.S., Internet Explorer has a 78-to-16 percent lead over Firefox, with Safari in third at 4 percent, or about the percentage of U.S. computer owners who have a Mac.

Among the individual nations surveyed, Internet Explorer is least popular among our cousins in Australia, where it is used by 66 percent of those online. Firefox has 27 percent of the market, leading me to wonder if the Aussies know something we don't.

The survey is Euro-centric, so it doesn't include any survey data from Asia, which I would be most interested to see.

Question for you: Is there something I'm missing be being so pedestrian as to use Internet Explorer and Safari? What would I gain by switching to one of the other browsers? I am prepared to be illuminated.

By Frank Ahrens  |  January 23, 2007; 11:52 AM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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Comments

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Aside from IE's obvious ActiveX security issues, IE's propensity for crashes, and Firefox's innovative tabbed browsing system, I can't imagine why anyone would switch from IE. Oh, wait--IE is terrible. That's why I switched.

Posted by: Firefox is better | January 23, 2007 1:39 PM

I've had so much adware/worms/general crap download itself onto my computer over the five years I've owned it that some of it crashes Norton Antivirus.

I haven't had any new problems since I switched to Firefox a year and a half ago (although I did update to the new one on my home computer and it won't load the first screen's worth of the WaPo homepage, so I'm doing some creative alternating between Netscape and Firefox until I figure out what's up.)

IE is evil. That's all there is to it.

Posted by: MB | January 23, 2007 1:50 PM

The Aussies are just smarter.

Posted by: andrew | January 23, 2007 1:56 PM

I like the consistency of being able to use Firefox at work on a PC and at home on my mac, especially after you add extensions that blog advertising (Adblock Plus), synchronize bookmarks (Google Browser Sync), and assist in building web sites (web developer toolbar, Firebug, live http headers), download a page full of files or images efficiently (Downthemall), and bypass annoying registration pages (Bugmenot).

Posted by: Ross M Karchner | January 23, 2007 2:02 PM

"But there is a sub-culture of browser users, those for whom Internet Explorer...isn't good enough. These are the same kind of folks for whom simple cell phone is not good enough; they must have the latest Smartphone."

Wow. Frank, you are awful at logic.

Posted by: Dan | January 23, 2007 2:10 PM

I don't have a smartphone, and I run Firefox. On Windows at work and Linux at home. Works the same way, with the same plug-ins, on both.

The security and plug-ins are what, IMHO, make it better than IE.

Posted by: wiredog | January 23, 2007 2:34 PM

You might want to check with your colleague over at the Security Fix blog - last year, there were security exploits for IE and no patch available from Microsoft for 9 months out of the year. For Firefox? 9 days.

Posted by: BR | January 23, 2007 2:40 PM

Here are the advantages of having more than one browser, which should be the question (If you have a Microsoft operating system you should keep IE). The question is which browser should you use as your default browser (the one that opens automatically.)

1. There is no cost to having more than one browser. Firefox and Opera are free downloads. They will happily co-exist with IE. They just offer you more choices. If you like one of them you can make it your default browser.

2. Firefox and Opera have tabbed browsing, which allows one to open several articles from the WAPO homepage without opening a new window for each article. A simple click on the toolbar takes you from article to article or back to the homepage.

3. Firefox offers "extensions." These are small applets, freely downloadable under "add-ons" on the "Tools" menu, that offer adblockers, flashblockers, pdf download options, weather updates, colorful tabs and many other nice customization options not available in IE.

4. Opera offers its own customization options as "Widgets", but I prefer the firefox extensions. But you may like "Widgets" better and the important point is you make the choice!

5. Both Opera and Firefox have "Clear Private Data" options which allow easy access to a cookie free browser. SO you can switch from Firefox where cookies are enabled to Opera which has a cookie free environment (if you clear private data after each use.) Caution: "clear private data" is not perfect, there are always some tracks as to where the browser has been for someone who knows computers well.

Posted by: rich | January 23, 2007 3:28 PM

I switched from Firefox 2, which was eating memory on my XP box, to the latest version of IE 7 and haven't had any problems.

Posted by: SwimmingAgainstTheTide | January 23, 2007 3:28 PM

Firefox+adblockplus=enjoyable surfing. Why expose your computer to daily probes and attacks from scriptkiddies because you didn't know about the latest zero-day exploit on IE or Windows? I don't have a smartphone, I just don't trust Microsoft with all of my security.

Search for free versions of AVG (anti-virus) and ZoneAlarm (firewall) to help lessen Microsoft's grip on your computer. Also scan with Adaware and Spybot to initially clean up your Windows system. Yes they are also FREE to use.

Posted by: denver | January 23, 2007 3:35 PM

Another huge advantage of Opera over every other browser I've tried is the ability to block selectively any ad on a web page. This is in addition to built-in popup blocking (no add-on required for either of these functions). Right-click somewhere on the page, select "Block content", and click on any (every!) ad on the page. When you're done, they simply don't appear anymore, and won't for all subsequent visits to the page (so you don't have to block each and every time you come back). The blocking function is smart enough to recognize almost everything from the same ad content provider, so one only infrequently has to tweak the block list for a particular site. I can now browse all my customary sites without any ads, and this makes viewing the web a completely different, vastly more pleasant experience.

I keep IE for those rare sites that Opera won't load (usually Java-heavy), such as links to Tom Toles's cartoons.

Posted by: Dave in ABQ | January 23, 2007 3:55 PM

Another huge advantage of Opera over every other browser I've tried is the ability to block selectively any ad on a web page. This is in addition to built-in popup blocking (no add-on required for either of these functions). Right-click somewhere on the page, select "Block content", and click on any (every!) ad on the page. When you're done, they simply don't appear anymore, and won't for all subsequent visits to the page (so you don't have to block each and every time you come back). The blocking function is smart enough to recognize almost everything from the same ad content provider, so one only infrequently has to tweak the block list for a particular site. I can now browse all my customary sites without any ads, and this makes viewing the web a completely different, vastly more pleasant experience.

I keep IE for those rare sites that Opera won't load (usually Java-heavy), such as links to Tom Toles's cartoons.

Posted by: Dave in ABQ | January 23, 2007 3:57 PM

Have you checked with Rob Pegoraro? I switched to Firefox after reading about it in one of his columns. At the same time I began using Mozilla Thunderbird instead of Outlook.

Posted by: Hugh | January 23, 2007 5:11 PM

If you can't tell the difference between Safari and IE, then I'm not sure you should be a tech writer. Tabbed browsing alone (which is only recently available in IE7, I'm told) is a huge difference. But RSS, a google search field, better link handling...I could go on and on, but won't.

I use Firefox for those few sites that won't work with Safari. I don't use IE on my Mac at all anymore, and haven't for about three years.

Posted by: PJ Geraghty | January 23, 2007 8:47 PM

Would you feel safe knowing that Microsoft prevent web evolution by refusing to update their IE6 browser. This browser had bugs on his head for long years and they haven't done anything about it...
If we were to pretend that the bugs and crashes of IE are not the issue here and the fact that many users have got their banking accounts or credit cards emptied because of the inexistance of simple protections ( or huge security holes like BHOs, ActiveX, etc, commonly spread with IE ) another important issue would be the adopted standards. They came up with their own standards ( or list of deliberate hacks to be more accurate, and didn't update again for long years ). The other browsers ,of course, had to create tweaks so they will act like IE ( in matter of page rendering for example, and on many other aspects as well ) - horrible I must say, but the solution worked...
From the simple user's point of view this has, of course, no meaning. But think about this, when you are reporting a problem have in mind the browser you are using and that the browser is a tool for having your work done. This is not about who's having the most rounded edges and the greenest icons.
Think about this: you own a Ford, if you don't care about how many miles per gallon you get, power output, efficiency and stuff like that, your Ford will do just fine. What happens when you discover non-polluting alternatives?... I'll tell you: you'll also find out that they're trying to push as many Fords up your butt as possible! :)

Posted by: Thomas | January 24, 2007 6:51 AM

I use Safari, Firefox and Opera on my Mac (OS 10.4), with Safari as my default browser and IE dumped altogether. Each has it's strengths and weeknesses, but Opera is still the least accomplished of the three with more than a few problems with OSX. Firefox acts as stand in for websites that dont play well with Safari. I would not bother with IE as it is relativly unstable on OSX with frequent "unexpected quits".

Posted by: Marc's two cents worth | January 24, 2007 11:39 AM

Let's guess, what would happen if Dell & HP preinstalled Opera?
Opera would gain >90% and IE would become a better browser, eventually.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 24, 2007 12:20 PM

I generally prefer anything except IE for two reasons, and both have to do with pure practicality, not a need for the latest gadget.

As a web developer, I waste the most billable hours trying to write work arounds for the IE6.x generation of browsers to get them to do the same thing all the others can do without problems. So it's become the most expensive browser to support, placing the most limitations upon my work.

As a person just browsing the Web, I have two criteria. Can the web site function the way it's intended using a given browser, and will my machine be given a virus, or other malware as I do so. Bottom line is due to it's own popularity, IE make my machines the most vulnerable. If I use IE on a PC, I have to do my homework on how to configure my machine to keep it safe, and update it regularely. Use a different browser, or even better use a Mac with Safari and (for the time being at least) I can surf with impunity.

Posted by: Aaron | January 24, 2007 12:36 PM

Let me join the chorus: I don't have a smartphone, and I run Firefox. IE is just dreadful. Unattractive, slow, and vulnerable to security messups. I gather the latest version of IE is better for security problems and includes tabbed browsing, but it's too late - Firefox has won my heart. You should try it out.

Posted by: h3 | January 24, 2007 3:43 PM

Firefox won me over with it's tabbed browsing and ability to display web pages correctly. I only use IE to access my company intranet & time sheet. With the new Firefox, the auto recovery feature has saved me from so many heartaches by restoring any blog posts or filled in forms should the computer do something horrible.

Posted by: Melissa | January 26, 2007 12:33 PM

Well, Firefox came with my OS. Oh yeah, I'm using Linux. That's why. I haven't switched to anything for the same reason Windows users don't. Its there, it works, and I'm lazy.

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