TECH TATTLE – Browser battles

Browser Battles

There is a little tale doing the rounds on the Net these days. According to this, the earliest NASA astronauts in space discovered that their pens would not function in zero gravity conditions as the ink could not flow down to the writing surface. (Houston, we have a problem, eh?) Eventually almost a decade and US$12 , million later, the NASA’s R&D nerds developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on practically any surface, and at temperatures–from below freezing to over 300 degrees Celsius. And what did the Russians do? They just deployed pencils instead. Hah! I am not sure if this story is true or not. But it is allegorical in highlighting the difference between focusing on problems versus concentrating on solutions.

And that indirectly brings us to two mini-events that took place endOctober: the launch of Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) and Firefox 2.0 (FF2), the two dominating web browsers. IE7 has taken five years to cook (IE6 was born in October 2001). FF2 follows less than two years after version 1 and about 10 months after version 1.5 was put out to pasture. While the upgrade of IE can be called a long overdue overhaul, FF can be summed up as fine-tuning an already featureladen offering. So are both browsers finally at par? Hmmm… Internet Explorer 7 www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/dow nloads/default.mspx IE, which has steadily been losing marketshare to FF, has tried hard to play catch up with its new rendition. To bring IE up to speed with the competition, the prime features that Microsoft has included in this 15MB download are: a neat new Windows Vista-like user interface, much-needed tabbed browsing, good integrated search, excellent RSS newsfeed support, a nifty add-ons manager to promote and distribute the extras, and a useful session-saver option for tabbed windows.

In addition to this, the IE7 development team has spent the last five years squashing IE 6 bugs, enhancing web page programming support, adding quick page zooms, working on a nice little bookmarks panel, churning out a faster rendering engine, and collating and vetting addons (www.ieaddons.com). On the much promised security front, IE 7 has beefed up by plugging several security holes, adding an antiphishing tool, SSL3 support, and opt-in support for ActiveX.

Pause mode, for those who feel out of sync… Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is a scam to steal valuable information like credit card, user IDs and passwords via an official-looking e-mail which is sent to potential victims pretending to be from their bank or or ISP. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, an Internet security proto col used to validate the identity of a website and to create an encrypted connection for sending credit card and other personal data. (When you are making online purchases, check for a lock icon at the bottom of your browser; a “closed” lock icon shows you are on a secure SSL connection.) ActiveX is a set of technologies and tools sheparded by Microsoft that helps programmers create small components or applets (self-sufficient programs, also called ActiveX controls) that can be installed and run on networks. ActiveX is viciously exploited by evil Web weevils to distribute malware, spyware and adware. Mozilla Firefox 2.0 www.mozilla.com With FF2, a lot of the aforementioned is a been-there-done-that case. Being an open-source project that is constantly being worked on by a glob al community of committed techies, Firefox has always taken full advantage of two of its inherent strengths: the speed of development and ability to innovate. While it demonstrates no radical revamps since its last major release less than a year ago, version 2.0 of Firefox polishes and perfects what it has already delivered. On some fronts, FF2 has integrated into the browser what was previously available as extensions or add-ons.

This 5.6 meg download offers perpetual customisability, an improved user interface, excellent browser tab and form control enhancements, a first-rate in-line spell-checker with multi-language support, an admirable auto-complete function for the built-in search engine box and web forms, a competent tab session save as well as reopen closed tabs capability, an outstanding PC crash session recovery function, and a refur bished themes and extensions manager. RSS integration is limited but can be enhanced via extensions like Sage (https://addons.mozilla.org). Security-wise, FF2 has a built-in phishing-detection system to caution you of a “suspected web forgery .”
Endgame: For finicky mirchimasala mongers like me, who like to tool and tinker, taste and tune, smack and squeeze power and performance, Firefox is the chosen one. For those of you who like your Web meal experience pre-cooked, pre-salted, preset, Maggi noodles style, IE 7 is the road ahead. Because all said and done, Firefox again sets the bar a few notches higher and remains the ¦ browser to beat. The author is a part-time publishing consultant and a full-time devotee of all things tech. He can be contacted at ashishone@gmail.com Internet Explorer 7 versus Firefox 2.0. Which is the better browser?