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Browser battle royale: Which should you use?

Column – Learn the ups and downs of Firefox, IE, Chrome, Safari, and Opera.

By Tom ReganColumnist for The Christian Science Monitor / July 1, 2009

San Jose Mercury News/Newscom

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I can still remember very clearly the day that I downloaded my first Internet browser. It was early May, 1993 and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) had released a graphical browser called Mosaic a couple of weeks earlier, which allowed you to “surf” this thing called the World Wide Web. Unlike earlier, simpler browsers, such as Lynx, Mosaic used not only text, but pictures, video and audio clips, and hypertext links to connect sites around the world.

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There were other browsers around at the time, but Mosaic was the one that literally changed the world. And looking at the suite of different browsers available on the Internet in 2009, they all still retain many of the original features developed for Mosaic, albeit greatly enhanced. (You can, in fact, still get a copy of the Mosaic browser from NCSA.)

These days, you have a broader choice of Internet browsers, despite the attempts by Microsoft to drive all the other browsers out of the space over the past decade. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer remains the most popular browser with a 65.9 percent share, but Mozilla’s open source Firefox has been showing a lot of strength in the past two years, controlling 22.9 percent of the browser market as of May 2009. (In 1999, IE was the browser choice of 95 percent of the market.)

Here is my own list of which browser to use, top to bottom.

Top choice: Mozilla’s Firefox 3.5

The hands down winner. Firefox was the browser to popularize the use of tabs, which allows you to open various sites in the same browser window, rather than having numerous version open on the desktop. Its first attempts at tabs were a bit clunky (I can remember a few times when I was working weekends at Boston.com and we would lose a fair bit of work because the tabs malfunctioned) but later versions are much more stable. The other great feature about Firefox is what is called “session restore.” When you turn the browser off, it asks if you want to remember what you were currently looking at. If the browser closes without warning, it automatically remembers and restores your windows and tabs.

The “Awesome Bar” is well, pretty awesome. Can’t remember that business site you visited yesterday and you don’t want to go back through all the history files. Just type business into the Awesome Bar and it will look for matches in your browsing history. The more you use it, the more it remembers. Wicked cool.

The Monitor looked into Firefox 3.5, the newest version, here.

Google’s Chrome