The battle of the browsers
Firefox 3 dukes it out with Safari and Internet Explorer to control the way we surf the Web.
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A few other browsers share the remaining sliver of the market. They’re led by Opera, produced by a Norwegian firm. It introduced an updated version of its browser last week.Skip to next paragraph
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Today the big three compete on the basis of speed, security, and new features. Mozilla claims that Firefox 3 represents some 15,000 improvements over its predecessor, although many of those act behind the scenes and will not be easily apparent to most users.
But there will be some major updates. According to Mozilla’s tests, Firefox 3 will load Web pages six to nine times faster than the current version of Internet Explorer.
Firefox 3 calls the address bar at the top of its page, where website addresses appear, its “awesome bar.” As users type into it, a list of suggested and related websites appears, based on sites that they’ve visited before. And pages can be tagged with descriptive words that the awesome bar will hunt for.
“It keeps track of all the stuff you’ve done in the past,” making the need to sift through old bookmarks or start a search all over again through Google less necessary, says Damon Sicore, director of platform engineering for Mozilla. The search history is contained on the user’s computer and not visible to anyone else, ensuring privacy, he says. It also can be easily erased. The downside: Someone else’s copy of Firefox 3 won’t be personalized in the same way, making the experience quite different.
Firefox 3 also contains stronger defenses against malware, such as phishing websites that pose as legitimate destinations in an effort to prod users to reveal personal information. If the user tries to go to a possible malware page, a warning pops up instead, advising the user not to visit the site.
Microsoft is expected to release a new version of Internet Explorer, IE8, by the end of the year. Its most talked about features are “web slices” and “activities.” Web slices would allow users to mount constantly updated parts of a Web page on their desktops. They could track weather, sports scores, or price changes, without needing to visit a Web page continually. With “activities,” a user’s cursor could hover over an item on a page and it would offer more information, such as a map of the area.
As the usefulness and features of browsers expand, users may find less need to run other programs on their computers. Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of searchengineland.com, says he’s set up his wife on three different computers recently, two PCs and a Mac, and found that he didn’t need to load any software for her.
Everything she wanted to do was available through her browser. She reads her e-mail at Yahoo and finds the rest of her software among Google’s many free online applications, including Google Docs, which allows users to create and share documents and spreadsheets, he says.
“Her browser was taking care of everything,” Mr. Sullivan says. She’s actually going online, “but if you don’t know any better, you’d think Google Docs is software running [on her own machine].”