Which Browser Is Best for Your Work?

Look out Microsoft, open-source alternatives are nipping at your heels

Net Market Share's recent Web browser statistics show Internet Explorer remaining the most popular, with 60 percent of the market share, which includes versions 6, 7, and 8. Firefox 3.6 comes in second at 24 percent, and Google's Chrome 5.0 is holding third place at 7 percent. It appears that Internet Explorer has a huge lead, but look out Microsoft, open-source alternatives are nipping at your heels.

Mozilla Firefox won approval from IBM when it announced last week that Firefox was "enterprise-ready". The open-source browser will come preinstalled on all of IBM's new computers, across all platforms. IBM's 400,000 employees plus its vendors are urged--even expected--to use and support Firefox.

Google's Chrome browser is the other open-source contender and, like the tortoise racing the hare, it's slowly but steadily making progress in the browser competition. I have used Firefox for years, but I am also impressed with Chrome's growing advantages, not to mention that I wholeheartedly support the open-source community and its ideals.

All three browsers share many of the same features, such as tabbed browsing, an integrated search engine, a smart toolbar, a list of frequently visited pages, RSS feeds, and automatic updates. The security options and the technical support are equivalent, but some of the finer features that your company's employees will appreciate, such as speed, page accuracy, infrequent crashes, customization options, and saving tabs are important factors to consider when evaluating your staff's efficiency.

Of the top three browsers, Firefox has the best address bar by far, an extensive add-on library, and it was always faster than the others. For example, for me, the pages load almost instantly and they are clear and accurate--as opposed to Explorer's slowly crashing and burning, which seems to result in needing to restart far too often; although version 8 is supposed to restore all lost tabs.

Firefox and Explorer each allow users to save tabs and customize settings, Chrome does not. Firefox and Explorer also provide parental controls and spell check, but Chrome does not--yet. Chrome and Explorer offer thumbnail view and can synchronize browser setting across computers, while Firefox does not. But these are minor features and all can be added easily to all three browsers by developers at some point in the future; so these are not really a deal maker or breaker in my view.

Google's Chrome started out with a weak engine but, from day one, it was really fast--and now, it seems faster than Firefox. You can search inside the address bar; a great, unique feature; and its pages also load fully and clearly. The Chromium engine is pure open source with Google's enhanced Chrome browser on the surface. One unique feature that I love is Chrome's separate computer threads for each tab, which means if one tab freezes, the whole browser does not crash--something Explorer does repeatedly every day. And, for user convenience, Google Chrome automatically updates whenever it detects a new version of itself.

Firefox still has the largest add-on library and Explorer's is not bad, but the Chrome advantages are growing daily. Chrome has add-ons, third party apps, and native support for programs such as Adobe PDF files, Flash, and Greasemonkey scripts available. Check out the Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome sites for a list of great add-ons and additional browser features. You might also want to visit the open-source app store.

My recommendation: If an open-source application is supported by a reputable company or is current in the open-source community, I choose open source. Why? It offers better efficiency, limitless options because of the many hundreds of developers out there creating compatible apps, and it helps to break up some of these industry monopolies. In this case, it's a tough choice between Chrome and Firefox. I have one on my laptop and one on my desktop, and I still can't decide.

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Julie Sartain

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