Life on the Internet keeps getting better thanks to constant innovation in the two most indispensable kinds of online tools: Web browsers and e-mail programs. The Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser continues to gradually win converts from the hordes of Internet Explorer users, spurring Microsoft to issue its long-awaited IE 7 last year. Although they may be popular, these top two browsers weren't the first to offer many of their key features (such as tabbed, multiwindow browsing; support for RSS newsfeeds; and pop-up blocking), and they're not always perfect performers.
When it comes to alternatives, you could opt for another stand-alone Web browser, but two products here combine Web and e-mail into a single convenient suite. Two other great browsers are really shells that enhance Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Plus, there's a portable version of Firefox that you can take with you on your USB thumb drive.
I also looked for tools to take your Web experience beyond mere browsing. I picked graphical HTML editors that let you design and publish your own sites without having to be an expert in markup language. And for fun, I found a nifty Web video player that consolidates your online viewing and offers a way out of the YouTube rut.
Microsoft Outlook is a great e-mail client and personal information manager, but it doesn't come cheap--the newest version comes as part of Microsoft's Office 2007. Fortunately, you can get many of its features in other excellent programs, most of them free. All of the e-mail applications I list here offer the basic tools you need to keep up with the daily deluge of e-mail, including address books, folders, and support for the main mail server protocols, POP3 and IMAP. The best also offer spam detection, spelling checking, and encryption. And a few come with unique features, such as stationery, virus-checking, and the ability to run from a USB drive.
If you have some strong opinions on browsers or e-mail programs, we'd like to hear them. Look for the Post a Comment link below, or go to our Forums (scroll down to the Web Browsing and E-Mail forum).