The New Web Challengers

Internet Explorer Shells

These three programs turn Internet Explorer into the browser that it could be if Microsoft were interested in updating its venerable product. By repackaging and augmenting IE's own features with tabbed multiple windows and other innovations that are already de rigueur in other browsers, they can make standing by your old faithful program easier.

Avant Force Avant Browser 10

1.1MB

Avant browser and Maxthon are virtually clones, with a few minor differences that could make one or the other more appealing to you. As with other browsers, be ready to reconfigure Avant's interface to reflect your version of Web reality. For some reason, Avant's window tabs show up at the bottom of the screen by default; things felt right once we dragged the tab bar to the top of the window. We also dragged and dropped other interface elements to their rightful places. For example, the browser's handy row of buttons for navigating among tabs and managing them appears in the top-right corner of the screen by default, but this row cries out to be nearer the main navigation buttons at the top left.

In addition to blocking ads, pop-ups, and ActiveX controls, Avant lets you erase your browsing history and other tracks, and bookmark groups of tabbed windows. It also serves as an RSS reader, complete with dozens of feeds (see FIGURE 4

Figure 4: The Avant browser IE shell lets you import RSS feeds in various categories from a drop-down menu.
). Not surprisingly, Avant Browser's log-in automation and site compatibility closely mirror those of IE.

Mysoft Technology Maxthon 1.1

1.8MB

Maxthon transforms the Ubiquitous One (IE) into a tabbed browser bristling with toolbars and utilities. Like Avant Browser, this IE shell blocks ads, pop-ups, and ActiveX controls, and its privacy tool makes it easy to erase your Internet cache, cookies, and browsing and search history. Maxthon gives you lots of control over whether and how new Web pages open in new tabs; and, like Firefox and Mozilla, the program lets you bookmark sets of tabbed Web pages so that you can open them all at once. You can also close open sites by domain or by screen position--all those to the right or to the left of your current position. Even if you turn off many of its bells and whistles, these core features make Maxthon useful for anyone who continues to rely on Internet Explorer for their browsing.

Like Avant Browser, Maxthon had a few compatibility issues with some of our test Web sites. However, if all you want is to fill a few of Internet Explorer's feature gaps, Maxthon could be just what you need.

Stilesoft NetCaptor Personal Edition 7.5.3

1MB

If the interfaces of the Avant Browser and Maxthon IE replacements are a bit too busy for you, NetCaptor may be more your style. The program looks a lot like plain-vanilla Internet Explorer, tacking on only a few unimpressive interface flourishes and toolbars. But NetCaptor does add two indispensable features: tabbed browsing and the ability to bookmark groups of tabbed pages. You can even e-mail these groups to other NetCaptor users. The program defaults to lining up Web page tabs at the bottom of the screen, just as Avant Browser does; switching the tabs back to the top of the browser's window requires a trip to its configuration settings, as well as a program restart. The smallest enhancement to IE of the three shells we reviewed, NetCaptor's two-trick fix may keep the alternative-averse from switching to Firefox.

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