Why You Should Be Using

The Short Story

A surprising number of people don't realize that they have a choice of several different browsers they can use to "surf" the internet. Not surprising is the fact that some are better than others. In the opinion of a great many computer professionals (myself included), the most common browser in use today— Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE)—is just about the worst you could be using! It's the most common simply because it's the default browser that is embedded (just try to remove it!) in the Microsoft Windows operating system, not because it's the best browser.

Some Brief History

Back in the early 1990's, when the internet was just getting started, there were only two commonly used browsers: IE and Netscape Navigator. Both companies foresaw the coming popularity of the internet and each wanted to have the most popular browser. Instead of cooperating like good children, they launched what's come to be known as the "browser wars." There were at least two significant results of those wars:

First, by including IE in its dominant Windows operating system and causing it to be installed by default when Windows was installed, Microsoft "won" the war by virtue of being the 800-lb. (operating system) gorilla on the block.

Second, as the internet and other browsers evolved, Microsoft continued to strengthen its grip on the browser market by developing IE as a highly proprietary product. In effect, they made it clear that website designers and developers had to do it the IE way, or not at all. Since IE was only available for the Windows OS, this proprietary stance served to enhance sales of Windows itself.

Eventually an independent "standards" organization emerged and, with input from many concerned companies in the industry, began to establish rules about how websites should be created. Also, a highly publicized legal action was launched against Microsoft and its (alleged) monopolistic practices. One important result of the legal action was that Microsoft had to give consumers a choice of other browsers when Windows was installed. It was still going to be an uphill battle for any other PC browser vendor, due to Microsoft's dominance, but at least a foot was in the door.

During roughly the last decade, the standards organization (W3C) managed to evolve a set of standards for the HTML and CSS markup languages that, if implemented, would allow all websites to appear the same way, regardless of which browser was used to view them. At the same time, we've also seen the development of several good browsers; e.g., Firefox, Safari (used mainly on Mac computers), Opera, and more recently, Google's Chrome. All of these browser vendors have worked hard to comply with the new standards as they evolved.

Microsoft, however, continued to drag its feet and implement proprietary technology in its versions of IE. This caused a real headache for website developers. For years, if they wanted their website designs to work on all different browsers and operating systems, they were forced to write one set of code for the newer browsers and then a different set of code or "hacks" to run on Microsoft's non-standards-compliant IE.

Where Are We Now?

In all fairness, Microsoft seems to have gradually come around to embracing the W3C standards in IE8, which is, finally, largely standards compliant. Recently, IE9 has been released. Microsoft is claiming that it utilizes much of the latest HTML standard (HTML5). That's a welcome stance. However, IE is still only available on computers running the Windows operating system and, further, will only work on the latest versions of that OS, Vista and Win7. This looks much like an effort to force consumers who are still happy running Windows XP to "upgrade" their OS which, of course, will cost a significant amount of money and is how Microsoft manages to make more profits every couple of years. In my opinion, the tiger has not lost all of its stripes.

Finally, Why Abandon Internet Explorer?

If, despite the politics, Internet Explorer was as good a browser as its several competitors, I could understand people not wanting to bother to change. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as good as any of those I've mentioned. Put another way, Opera, Safari, Chrome and Firefox are all better than IE. Changing from IE to any one of them would be an improvement. Is the newly released IE9 any better? Here's a CNET article that compares it to earlier versions.

Since I and many others feel that Firefox is the best of them all, I'll end this diatribe by comparing Firefox (FF) to IE with respect to some features I consider important. Then you can be the judge.

Alright, I've said my piece. The decision is yours. But, I have one last parting suggestion: there's no reason you can't have more than one browser installed on your computer. In fact, I have six installed on my computer, which allows me to check how my webpage creations will render in all the popular browsers. So, if you're currently running IE on Windows, why not download and install Firefox for free and compare it to IE? What have you got to lose?