Just browsing, thanks

Is it time to reassess the browser that's most prevalent at your organisation? You're probably sitting there thinking 'no' straight off the bat. That would be sad, but I can understand it. I too was of that opinion until just last week.

Is it time to reassess the browser that's most prevalent at your organisation?

You're probably sitting there thinking "no" straight off the bat. That would be sad, but I can understand it. I too was of that opinion until just last week.

You're all familiar with the story. Netscape was dominant and scoffed at the suggestion that upstart Microsoft would romp all over its product. MS did just that and now controls the market entirely, albeit with a free product. Netscape retaliated by upping the "free" stakes and releasing the source code.

I've used Netscape 4.75 quite happily for years now. I don't want my browser talking to my word processor or any of that nonsense. I want it to remember my bookmarks but not my passwords. I dislike cookies that are sent off to third-party sites so I want some control over that.

Beyond that, the later versions of Netscape and Internet Explorer just didn't really seem to have anything worth upgrading for. I don't need a download manager to tell me I'm downloading stuff. I don't need dozens of new buttons to allow me to print or shop or chat. Away with you.

Sadly, the upgrade to the IDGNet site meant 4.75 didn't cut the cheese any longer. I was forced to use IE5 and later, with my new hard drive, IE6. Determined to find fault, I was mildly shocked to discover that it was much faster than crusty old Netscape despite its bulky size. It did seem keen on disconnecting QuickTime and RealPlayer, but since Real insisted on stuffing several icons into my system tray, I didn't mind that so much. I'll be damned if I'm going to use Media Player though -- it makes mincemeat out of movie trailers.

So despite the constant tug of war over my media, I've been using Netscape and IE side by side quite happily for almost a year. While one is loading up a page I use the other to surf to another site. If one's tied up doing something intensive, the other works just fine.

One of my colleagues uses Opera but frankly it looks ugly to me and refuses to play some media, although that might just be his set-up. My basic demand from a browser is that it load pages fast. That's all.

But then someone said "Hey, have you tried tabbed browsing?" and I was forced to admit I hadn't. Tabbed browsing allows you to open a new browser window within the existing browser. Given the number of times I had IE and Netscape open at the same time, I thought this might be a good idea and it is. If one window is running a bit slow because of the connection or the other end's server I can open a new tab and just carry on. Great fun, and useful. [Opera is quick and has done this for ages -- Dep ed].

I'd almost decided to download Netscape 6 just for the tabbing when I read a review that said don't bother with N6, go with Mozilla 1.0 (Netscape's engine is Mozilla). I'm always happy to take a stranger's word as gospel so I downloaded the beastie and it was great. Tabbed browsing was a breeze, it imported all my Netscape bookmarks and IE favourites. All was painless and well and good.

But if there's one problem with Netscape in particular and Mozilla in general it's that they're annoyingly slow to load pages. So slow that I was on the verge of pulling it out altogether and sticking with 4.75 after all, which would have been sad.

Fortunately, someone else pointed out that this was a common complaint with Mozilla and that since it was open source (free as in "to a good home"), why not try one of the others.

I've downloaded Phoenix, which uses a lot of Mozilla code and is small, nimble and, by golly, loads fast. Best of all it looks just like Mozilla (which looks just like Netscape) and has tabbed browsing, which I now can't surf without.

It does have its drawbacks. It's still only a beta, so half the tools are missing, and for some reason it refuses to import any bookmarks, IE or Netscape. But that's a small price to pay, I feel.

It's time to have another look at all the different browsers (and research who plans to use "rsync" if you're really interested in fast downloads). Most are free, or some variant of free, and there are a new range of tools and devices that might make them more appealing to IT manager and user alike. If users are happy, that's got to make your life that little bit less stressful, right? If they need to surf they may as well do it faster and more efficiently.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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