Which Browser to Use

Since the web was first created there have been two periods during which the choice of which web browser to use for accessing the Internet was obvious. During each of those two periods one particular browser had about 98% of the market as far as browser use was concerned and was therefore the defacto standard for web pages to follow. Since the web pages were created specifically to work with that browser and would not necessarily work with other browsers.

This is no longer the case and there are currently a half dozen or so different browsers which have a significant enough share of the market for web page authors to need to take those browsers into account. Doing so is made easier for them as there are now accepted standards that are independent of any particular browser which all modern browsers can be expected to follow and therefore any modern browser should be able to handle displaying web pages properly.

To some extent then the choice of which of the modern browsers you should use is one you need to make for yourself. Choose the one that works the way that suits you the best. Since all of the modern browsers are available as free downloads and can all be installed on the same computer at the same time you can easily just download several different ones, try them out, and choose whichever suits you the best.

In many cases browsers will differ from one another in quite superficial ways since most browsers use one of four different 'rendering engines' to determine how to translate the HTML that makes up the source of the web page into the actual page that you see displayed in the browser. Different browsers that use the same rendering engine will be somewhat similar in the way that they display the same web page. In fact with three of the four rendering engines the results will be reasonably similar and a web page would need to use some fairly obscure coding for you to notice a difference. The fourth rendering engine has undergone a major rewrite to bring it more closely into line with the other rendering engines but still lags somewhat behind in its support for some of the standards that web pages are supposed to follow.

Since this one rendering engine lags behind the other three the choice of which browser you should choose is best made from between browsers using one of the other three rendering engines. This will of course change if this fourth rendering engine does actually catch up with the other three in supporting web pages properly.

So which rendering engine is it that is best avoided at present and which web browsers use it? Well the rendering engine is called trident (the other three are presto, gecko, and webkit). Since trident is a proprietary rendering engine there is only one web browser that uses it, that web browser is called Internet Explorer. While Internet Explorer 8 is not far behind the modern web browsers that use other rendering engines, the earlier versions of Internet Explorer use older versions of trident which have much poorer support for the current web standards and are therefore less likely to be able to display web pages correctly.

The only reason that IE6 and IE7 are useable at all as web browsers is that IE6 dominated the browser market a few years ago and still has so many people using it that even though it can't handle a lot of the modern web page code correctly, web authors still need to take it into account in providing a version of their page that is at least readable in that browser. As usage of that browser version falls, new sites will gradually place less emphasis on making their pages fully functional in that browser and eventually while you will be able to view the content of web pages in that browser you will not get all of the fancy interactivity that will be available if you view the page in a modern browser. The same is true to a lesser extent with IE7.

Another reason for avoiding IE6 is that it contains hundreds of known security holes which may make your computer vulnerable to attack. Microsoft made the decision that they would plug these security holes by doing a major rewrite of the browser and so the version of the browser that plugs those holes was released as IE7 rather than as a security patch for IE6. For the most part IE7 is a security patch for IE6 with a few additional changes thrown in to bring it slightly more up to date. IE8 is a further major rewrite of IE7 that brings Internet Explorer up to the same level of standards support as the other browsers provided several years ago.

So if you are going to avoid using Internet Explorer, which browser should you use? Well if you are running Windows you can't avoid IE completely since it is built into the operating system and is needed to at least allow the Windows Update function to run. You should be able to use whatever browser you decide that you like the best for everything else.

 

This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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