In the years since the internet has become mainstream, the web browser landscape has shifted quite a lot. From accessing BBS servers using telnet command lines, we went through the short reign of AOL and Netscape Navigator, to Microsoft’s attempt to monopolize the web with Windows integrated Internet Explorer, to the more open access of today’s browsers. We’ve come a long way, and now we have more choice in the way we surf the web than ever before. Each one has its pros and cons, so it can be hard to decide which to use. Hopefully, the following information will make it easier to find a browser that works best for you.
MICROSOFT INTERNET EXPLORER
If you have Windows, you almost certainly have Internet Explorer, since it has been an irrevocable component of the OS starting with certain versions of Windows 95. You can only sort of remove the browser by navigating to an obscure menu buried in a deep dark corner of Windows, but even then, it’s still technically on the system.
Regardless, it’s one of the worst browsers out there (on the help desk, it’s often fondly referred to as Internet Exploder), but it’s one that you’re basically forced to use, if only occasionally. That’s because Microsoft intranet and cloud based web services require it to be fully compatible, so if you use a service like SharePoint or Remote Web Workspace, you need it to use all the bells and whistles. Old websites are the same; some just require the browser to fully function as they were often designed back when IE was the most widely used browser.
The latest version, Internet Explorer 11, could then be considered an improvement, but only when it comes to performance. Old websites still have trouble with the new version, and even some of the aforementioned Microsoft services need to be placed in compatibility mode to even run. It’s all a bit of a headache, and, for many users, will be too much hassle to deal with.
When Windows 10 rolled around, Microsoft made the decision to replace the aging Internet Explorer with something a little more competitive. Sort of. In truth, Internet Explorer 11 is also available on the operating system for compatibility reasons. That’s right, Microsoft was unable to offer all the support of their previous web browser, so they chose to run the old one in tandem. There’s actually an “Open in Internet Explorer” option in the browser’s main menu. Even Microsoft products like SharePoint don’t offer the same support that they do in Internet Explorer, which is baffling.
That aside, Edge isn’t a bad browser. It’s perhaps the fastest of the bunch, it’s relatively secure, and overall is a mostly pleasant experience, and it’s because of these advantages that compatibility took a hit. In the rush to catch up to the competition, Microsoft opted to drop support for old runtimes like ActiveX. It also offers little in terms of customization, not even allowing for a change in the default download folder without an obscure registry change. Still, it’s a relatively new browser, so things may improve and expand further in the future.
Google hit the ground running with the launch of their Chrome browser in 2008, touted as the fastest browser at the time. Things have changed since then, and the browser has started to slow under the glut of new features that have been piled on over time. Still, Chrome is a beast. Its interface is sleek and minimal, it’s slick and easy to use, and, perhaps best of all, it has a wide range of add-ons that can be installed to expand its functionality. If you’re a heavy user of Google’s services (Gmail, Google Play, Google Drive), then you can sync your browser settings with other platforms, such as Android phones.
Chrome has one Achilles’ heel, however, and that is its thirst for system resources. Depending on how many tabs you run, Chrome could take up a sizeable chunk of available RAM. That means if you work on a system with only a minimal amount of RAM, you could witness things start to crawl after a short period of working with it. Some users may also hesitate at the thought of integrating Google further into their web browsing, as the company is heavily invested in advertising and the collection of telemetrics, which makes privacy a concern.
Built upon the ruins of Netscape Navigator and once considered the king of the browser world, Firefox has been slipping behind in recent years. Its design is bulkier than Chrome and Edge’s and its compatibility and performance have been in a gradual decline for a while. It was the browser to help popularize tabs, add-ins, and integrated search bars, but for many people, that good will has since run out, and Firefox has begun to lag in the usage ratings.
With that said, you could do worse. Firefox is still a reasonably secure browser. It ranks somewhere around the middle for speed, and although its interface is clunky, it is pretty customizable. There’s also the fact that the Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization, which helps them support open source applications and advocate for privacy.
Though it has been around for over two decades and weathered the storm of Microsoft’s anti-competitive practices during the early days of Internet Explorer, Opera has struggled to gain any headway in browser usage ratings. That’s not entirely fair, as Opera is actually a pretty capable browser that can more than keep up with its more popular rivals.
On top of being very fast and clean, Opera comes with a few bonus features. If you’re averse to adverts, an ad-blocker comes built in. If you’re particular about privacy, you can choose to route through a VPN to disguise your PC’s location. And if you’ve got the need for speed, there’s the Opera Turbo option that routes a web page through their server and compresses the data before sending it to the browser, resulting in faster loading on slow connections.
If there’s one downside to Opera, it’s not with the browser itself. The company sold off the software in late 2016 to a group of investors. It’s unknown what impact this will have on the company, but a change in management can always be a little worrying.
THE BROWSER FOR YOU
There are others of course, but those are the big 5. Apple Mac users are accustomed to Safari, but it has been discontinued for Windows PC’s since 2012. Number 7 on most used browsers is currently Yandex, a Russian built browser that is created from bits and pieces of other browsers, which isn’t bad, but it can be a bit confusing. Vivaldi is an incredibly customizable bit of kit, but that also makes it pretty overwhelming for new users. Brave is a promising new browser with a suite of ad-blocking and privacy options, but it still has a way to go before it’s worth a recommendation.
So what browser is right for you? It all depends on your situation. If you need it to work with Microsoft’s aging (or even recent) web-based software, Internet Explorer may be your only option. If you want speed and have the resources, go Chrome. If big corporations spook you, Mozilla is a non-profit organization committed to privacy. If you hate ads and don’t like the idea of advertisers tracking you, Opera’s a good choice. Many people even use two web browsers, switching between them based on what they’re using it for.
It can be confusing sometimes, but one thing is for certain, having a choice in how you crawl the internet is always a positive thing.