Are you an Internet Explorer traditionalist? An old-time Opera booster? A fervent Firefox enthusiast? Or an advocate of possible Next-Big-Thing Maxthon?
Now that Microsoft has come out with the public preview of its upcoming Internet Explorer 7 for XP, it is time to explore exactly why IE is still top dog, whether it deserves to bear that title, and which browsers may be closing in on its tail.
Getting Passionate About Browsers
Challenging IE is not an easy task when a browser ships along with your operating system, and is the default for which most site owners design their pages, it's hard to challenge its primacy. And Microsoft knew this for a long time, IE seemed to be resting on its laurels, ignoring such popular features as RSS readers and tabbed browsing.
IE7 Beta 2 Preview For XP
See For Yourself: Browser Comparo
Vote: Are You Going To Switch?
However, in the browser race, if you stall, you fall, and some IE users were lured away by competitors' features. While Firefox still has nowhere near IE's numbers, and may have even stalled a bit recently, Mozilla's browser has made headlines by attracting a growing and incredibly loyal user base.
And Firefox is not the only alternative out there. At one time, the role of David to IE's Goliath was acted by Opera, a feature-filled independent browser that was one of the original havens for those who wanted to avoid any entanglement with Microsoft. Other users who are less devout in their distaste for any software coming out of Redmond are trying out alternatives based on the IE engine, such as up-and-comer Maxthon.
Having realized its mistake, Microsoft decided not to wait until its upcoming Vista operating system premiered in 2007 to debut a new version of IE. Redmond previewed the first public beta of Internet Explorer 7 for XP on January 31, 2006. It's not the only browser that's busily upgrading, though. The final version of Firefox 1.5 hit the Web on November 29, 2005; Opera has just announced (but, as of this writing, not yet released) a technical preview of its latest 9.0 release, while Maxthon offered a major upgrade to 1.5.0 last September, and a tweaked version 1.5.2 at the end of December.
In an effort to attract users, these new browsers include (or are capable of including) everything but the kitchen sink -- and we wouldn't be surprised if at least one actually offered hot and cold running water. Tabbing, a choice of search engines, and RSS readers have become expected features. You can also start looking for thumbnails of tabbed pages (IE7 and Opera 9), BitTorrent downloads (Opera 9), hundreds of extensions (Firefox), and a "Collection Bin" for saving text and graphics (Maxthon).
Battling For The Best
So which is the best? We've asked four of our best and most opinionated writers to review the latest version of their favorite browser, and try to convince the rest of us to use it as well. We've got Ed Bott supporting Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview For Windows XP, Scot Finnie advocating for Firefox 1.5, Dennis Fowler pushing Opera 8.5, and Ron White cheerleading for Maxthon 1.5.
However, just telling you about these four browsers isn't enough we've decided to both show and tell, by including a visual tour of each browser and a side-by-side comparison of four of the most popular features: tabs, RSS readers, search engines, and extensions/add-ons. At the end of it all, we'll ask you to vote which one you think is best.
So fire up your own browser and prepare to be convinced to either switch or stay.
-- Barbara Krasnoff