The Netwise Guide to Browser Bliss


Everyone–yourself included–uses a web browser. In fact, there’s a good chance your web browser is the most-used application on your computer or whatever device you’re reading this on now. Even if your work locks you into a particular specialty app for most of the day, your web browser, and perhaps whatever you use for email (browser there, too?), are certain to play a close second. Yet why did you choose the browser you use? By what criteria did you settle on your chosen browser, that mundane assemblage of graphics and code that mediates the majority of your interaction with just about everything outside your local network?

Fact is, most people don’t give browser choice much thought. After all, at the end of the day, how different are they? Well, gentle reader, the answer just might surprise you.

As a web design agency we give browsers quite a lot of thought. We have to, because so much of what we do involves making sure that our carefully-crafted websites and web applications work and look equally well on all of them. And as a result, we get a lot of direct, hands-on exposure to the full range of options available today. We know how they stack up, what the differences are, which ones work well and those that don’t. We know a lot about browsers, and the good news for you is that I’m going to share with you some invaluable browser tips based on lessons learned in the field and right here in the Netwise office. So with that, here is the Netwise Guide to Browser Bliss!

Shop around.

Just because your OS came installed with a browser doesn’t mean that it’s the best one out there, or even a good one. There are LOTS of browsers. None are too complicated to figure out. Try a few a choose the one you like best.

Use a modern, up-to-date browser.

Web technologies are constantly evolving, and 99% of the time this represents change for the better. If you’re still using some pre-installed version of Internet Explorer from 2003 you need to retire that Model T and move up to the latest version of something. And on this point let me be very clear: if you are still using any version of Internet Explorer (this is the one that comes pre-installed with Windows) earlier than 8 you must stop immediately and go get a better browser. Even Microsoft has said the time has come to put this bug-ridden abomination out of it’s misery, so don’t put it off a moment longer. You’re holding back the Internet, fer chrissakes.

Don’t underestimate the importance of security.

Going out on the Internet is a bit like being in Roppongi after the last train: it always involves a fair amount of risk. Doing so using some ancient browser–like, say, Internet Explorer version 6–is downright dangerous. Surfing the Net with an unprotected, out-of-date browser is like crossing a highway on foot and blindfolded. You never know when you’re going to get hit, and you can be sure it’s going to mean lots of pain when you do. Security flaws in out-of-date browsers are a leading cause of computer infections, data loss and identity theft. Don’t take chances.

Understand the differences.

A web browser is a fairly simple app, but notable differences nonetheless exist, particularly when it comes to performance and features. Check out this detailed comparison to see how the different browsers rank. Wikipedia also has an in-depth comparison of web browsers with lots of useful historical information.

Interested in what’s happening in terms of browser usage overall? Have a look at this Usage Share of Web Browsers article on Wikipedia. For those of us in the biz the chart below doesn’t hold any surprises. Does it for you?

Enhance and improve your browser with extensions.

Browsers like Firefox and Chrome enjoy the support of an enthusiastic community of developers and companies which create applications that integrate with and enhance them. Referred to variously as extensions, add-ons and plug-ins, there are literally thousands of these out there today.

Want to download YouTube videos? Block online ads? Fine-tune the way your pages display? Debug your website? If so, then browser extension are for you! Have a look at the links below to see examples for each major browser.

Choose the browser best-suited to your browsing habits.

Do you use Hotmail/Windows Live for email and like Bing for search? Then the current version of Internet Explorer is probably for you. Do you use Google Apps or Analytics? Are you all about speed and simplicity? Google Chrome is what you want. Need flexibility and loads of functionality? Choose Firefox with its open source architecture and massive library of extensions.

In Summary

If we can leave you with one take-away let it be this: if your web browser is more than 2-3 years old it’s time to upgrade to a newer version of the same or another browser. Best of all, doing so is drop-dead easy. The links below will take you straight to the download page for each of today’s best browsers. Download the installer file for the language of your choice, run it, and let the browsing bliss begin!

ChromeFirefoxSafariOperaInternet Explorer