Choose a browser you can trust.
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Microsoft's new Web browser is a dud, and you have much better choices

Nov. 5, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   Microsoft says "We heard you" on the home page it created for its new Web browser, Internet Explorer 7. But it apparently didn't hear the right things.
   There's no question that IE7 is better than its Swiss-cheese predecessor, the security nightmare known as Internet Explorer 6. But that's not saying much. If you've heard the hype about the newest version of Internet Explorer, ratchet down your enthusiasm for a minute. IE 7 has four major problems you need to know about:
   1. Internet Explorer 7 won't run under any version of Windows earlier than Windows XP with Service Pack 2 installed. That means it's a no-go under Windows 95, Windows 98 or 98 SE, Windows ME, Windows 2000 and the original Windows XP.
   An estimated 49 percent of Windows users worldwide -- 200 million people -- are running non-XP versions of Windows.
   2. Microsoft says IE7 is much safer than IE 6. ("You wanted it easier and more secure," Microsoft's IE7 Web site says.) But are we expected to trust Microsoft's judgment on this?
   On the very first day Internet Explorer 7 was available to the public for download, a serious security flaw surfaced. Jeremiah Grossman, a respected security analyst, wrote in his blog that "while IE7 is probably far more secure than its predecessor, less bugs equals good, (but) this does not necessarily mean less risky for users." Another serious flaw surfaced the following day. And yet another came to light on Day 3. (See my comments in my blog.) This is totally ridiculous.
   3. IE7 has internal plumbing that reaches right into Windows XP. (That's why it won't run on older versions of Windows.) But that was a major reason all previous versions of Internet Explorer were so unsafe. Isn't it time Microsoft stopped using such an insecure design?
   4. "New" features of IE7 aren't new at all. They're been around for a long time in other browsers -- long enough, in fact, for other browser designers to get things right. I don't expect Microsoft to do that the first or second time it makes the attempt.
   What are those "other" browsers that do what IE7 is now trying to achieve? They are Firefox, a free browser developed by the Mozilla organization (a non-profit group of software experts with one aim -- to produce the world's best and safest Web browser), and Opera, also free, from a company that specializes in making browsers for every conceivable kind of computer.
   Firefox, which can be downloaded free from www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox, is my personal choice for Windows users. It's the choice of many others, too -- more than 200 million users worldwide, counting all versions (Windows, OS X and Linux, mostly).
   Opera is like a fourth leg on a three-legged stool, having only a few million users in total, but in some ways it's a refreshing change from IE and Firefox. Like Firefox, it's leagues ahead of IE in safety and security, but it has a half-dozen extra features you might find irresistible. Among them: A Notes function that collects and stores notes; hundreds of add-on gadgets that work like the Widgets in Apple's OS X, and the best help system I've ever seen for any software. (Opera fans often jump in to offer assistance in online posts.) Get Opera from www.opera.com.
   Firefox and Opera run on older versions of Windows in addition to XP, so they're ideal if you're a Windows user who hasn't stepped up to XP. They also run on Apple's Mac OS X computers, a boon for anyone who uses both Windows and Macs; you can use the same browser on both. And they have a track record for safety, security and quick bug fixing.
   As for IE7, try it if you want to. But my advice is to choose a browser you can trust.