There's no doubt: Microsoft's Internet Explorer is a dinosaur. It's big and heavy, plods around with no smarts, and--with so many better options around--destined to be extinct. (At least on my machine)
So it's time for--dare I say it?--an upgrade.
Sure, I know: I'm the guy always kvetching about needless upgrades (Office and Word are prime examples). But I must have tried a dozen Internet Explorer substitutes, most free and a few low-cost. I've found browsers that are bright, fast, and loaded with truly useful, productivity-increasing features.
In this week's newsletter, I'll explain what I don't like about Internet Explorer and tell you the features I need in a browser. Next week I'll describe about a dozen browser alternatives, including two freebies and fee-based programs I think are the best of the bunch.
Internet Explorer's Download Spiral
Internet Explorer's been my standard browser for a few years. But I've grown restless with it, annoyed that I have to go through too many gyrations to make it do what I need. For instance, I could type PCWorld into IE's address field and use the keyboard shortcut Control-Enter to add http:// and .com to the start and end of the URL. That's fine, but what about URLs ending in .net and .org? There's no shortcut. That's not a big grievance, I agree, but indicative of a program that was beginning to feel a little tarnished.
Don't worry, I have more IE kvetches.
The browser's toolbar is unstable. Too often it'll change without my consent, transporting the Google Toolbar to another location and, for good measure, entirely removing RoboForm from the Menu. Sure, I have a workaround: I use Brett Bartholomew's free Toolbar Chest to recover the toolbar.
But using all these helper apps was part of the problem. I was expending PC resources with utilities just to make IE work the way I wanted it to.
My biggest irritation with IE is how poorly it managed sites I visited. Think about the ease in which you can open spreadsheets in Excel, each with its own tab at the bottom of Window. Why doesn't IE do that?
So I have a list of features I want in a browser. Next week you'll be surprised to learn that they're all available--in other browsers.
What I Need in a Browser
Reliability: I want to open my browser and not worry it'll crash. Right, I know, that's asking too much, and it's one of the reasons I gave up on Netscape years ago. The program regularly fell headfirst into the bit bucket (like hourly). While I'm ranting about Netscape, I need to add that I couldn't keep up with its weekly incremental revisions and I never liked the sheer weight of the product's assorted components.
Crash Smarts: Of course, I do realize that every browser will occasionally panic and take a dive. Wouldn't it be cool if the browser picked up where it left off, opening all the sites you were visiting before it crashed?
Tabs: One absolute necessity is for a browser to open up multiple Web pages within a single window. Visualize a horizontal bar across the top of your browser that looks like the Windows Taskbar. Each time you visit a site, another tab appears. Navigate from one tab to another using your mouse or keyboard shortcuts. The tabs have to be flexible so I can choose how, when, and where new tabs open. (Right about now thousands of Mozilla and Netscape users are composing flaming messages aimed at me. So okay, I'll concede. Yes, yes, and yes: Tabs came first in both these products. Now don't send those e-mails.)
Dig This: By now you know I'm slightly obsessed with jazz. But this witty, tap-yer-foot, Billy Joel Flash animation is just perfect to keep me dancing when my editor asks about possible copyright infringement problems with this "dig this." [Thanks, Doug!]
More Browser Features I Have to Have
Groups: Oh, this is one of the best of the new browser features. Imagine being able to open multiple tabs, with each tab pointing to a different site about, say, TiVo. Then with a click, you save them as a group. Later, when you're working on the TiVo research project again, open the TiVo group. Nice idea, right?
Ad and Pop-up Blockers: Build 'em in, and make them effective and easy to use.
Plug-ins: Most browsers accept add-ins, say, Google's Toolbar. The really bright browsers let me add any program to the toolbar--easily, quickly, and seamlessly.
Smart Favorites: Every browser has a way to get to favorites. But my browser needs a way to create and retrieve favorite favorites.
Undo: You goof and close a tab. Instead of rummaging around the whole Internet to find the site again, just hit the undo button.
Dig This: I can't get enough of the images from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day site. Take a gander at two great pics, from March 5, 2004 and March 6, 2004. And for a few hours of fascinating viewing, visit the Hubble gallery.
Stay tuned; next week I'll grace these pages with more browsers than you'll know what to do with.