12 reasons not to use Internet Explorer, ever

Despite being mainly a Windows user, Internet Explorer is dead to me. Has been for ages.

Aesthetics and speed have nothing to do with it. I split my time between Firefox and Chrome for the following Defensive Computing reasons.

1. You are safer by avoiding software that bad guys target. Mac users benefited from this for years. Windows users can lower their attack surface (be less vulnerable) by avoiding popular software. Internet Explorer is popular, so bad guys exploit known problems with the browser. No thanks.

2. Microsoft fixes bugs in Internet Explorer on a fixed schedule. But, bugs are not discovered on a schedule which means IE users remain vulnerable to know bugs until the next scheduled bug fix roll-out. Neither Firefox nor Chrome, my preferred browsers, are locked into a schedule.

3. In addition, I get the feeling that Microsoft is just slow in fixing Internet Explorer bugs. The last release of IE patches included a fix to a bug that Microsoft had been told about six months ago.

4. The topic of bugs in popular software brings Adobe's Flash Player to mind. Internet Explorer users with Flash enabled in their browser get notified of new versions of Flash using a very flawed system. And, when they are notified, they need to manually install the new version of Flash.

In this day and age, this is not acceptable; Flash is too popular and too buggy. Firefox fails here too. As I wrote about recently, I only use Flash from within Chrome which automatically, quickly and quietly updates the Flash player.

5. And speaking of Flash, it exists in Internet Explorer as an ActiveX control. The lack of security in ActiveX is what prompted me to jump on the Firefox bandwagon even prior to version 1.0.

ActiveX may be locked down a bit more than it used to be, but how many Internet Explorer users understand the security related prompts about running an ActiveX control, let alone the configuration options for ActiveX? To me, a browser that doesn't support ActiveX is safer.

6. ActiveX was the first approach to extending browsers with extra features and functions. Now, both Firefox and Chrome have a huge number of available extensions. Internet Explorer has only a handful.

7. Buggy browser extensions/plugins are often targeted by bad guys. Both Firefox and Chrome do some checking for outdated extensions. Internet Explorer does none. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote:

... these days when attacking Web-plug ins, such as Adobe Flash is every hacker’s favorite new trick, IE 9 doesn’t alert you if you’re not running the latest plug-in, which Firefox does with Plug-in Check or automatically update them ala Chrome with its built-in PDF and Flash software. Better still, in Chrome, even if your plug-in gets hit by zero day attack, the most frequently attacked plug-ins, Adobe Flash Player and Reader, run in a sandbox so the attack can’t get to your PC’s operating system.

8. The most popular operating systems are, I believe, Windows XP, Windows 7 and OS X. Of these, the latest version of Internet Explorer, version 9, runs on only one. Many people use more than one computer and are likely to deal with more than one operating system. Firefox and Chrome provide a cross-platform experience (including Linux) that Internet Explorer does not.

9. And, if you use multiple computers, both Firefox and Chrome have built-in features to synchronize bookmarks and more between different instances of the browser. Internet Explorer (at least up to version 8) can't do this.

10. On Windows, I am a huge fan of portable applications, Windows programs that can run without first being installed. There are portable versions of both Firefox and Chrome. There is no portable version of Internet Explorer. A portable application is totally self-contained, which lets you have multiple installed copies that are totally independent of each other.

In terms of browsers, you could use one copy of a portable browser to test new extensions. Or, since extensions can potentially spy on you, have a copy of your browser with no extensions at all for online banking. Or, kick the tires on a new version of your browser, while still having the old version available. Or, multiple people sharing the computer can have their own copy of the browser with their own favorite extensions and modifications.

And, of course, you can move or copy a portable browser to a USB flash drive or another Windows machine. When you do, your favorite extensions come along, as do any tweaks you may have made to the user interface.

Perhaps the best thing about portable applications is that you can back them up before making changes. Backing up an application is something Windows has never offered.

If Internet Explorer starts acting funny, you've got a hassle ahead, potentially a big one. If a portable browser breaks, just delete the folder where its stored and fall back to the last backup. All that's involved is copying a folder.

11. Anyone running a 64 bit version of Windows 7 may have to deal with the confusion over 32 and 64 bit versions of Internet Explorer. There is no such confusion with Chrome and Firefox.

12. The main competition to Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, are free. So too is Opera.

Given all this, why would a thinking person use Internet Explorer?

Does anyone really care about web slices, pinned sites and accelerators?

More than once I have nudged a non-techie Windows user away from Internet Explorer by removing its icon from the Windows desktop, installing Chrome, changing the Chrome icon to IE's blue "E" and changing the name under the icon to "Internet". Some may consider this lying, I consider it good Defensive Computing.

Finally, anyone using Windows 7 can do more than just ignore Internet Explorer, they can actually turn it off.

To do so, go to the Control Panel -> "Programs and Features" -> "Turn Windows features on or off." Internet Explorer (be it version 8 or 9) is listed as a feature that can be turned off.

According to Microsoft, "If you turn it off, the program won't appear to be installed on your computer and you won’t be able to open it." Interesting. But then they go on to say

... programs that use the Internet Explorer HTML rendering engine to display information should continue to work ... Some programs that depend on Internet Explorer might not function properly.

I haven't tested it.


Update: July 3, 2011. Thanks to some of the comments below, I came to realize there are two more reasons to avoid Internet Explorer.

13. Windows users are safer if they log on as a restricted/limited user rather than an administrator. One of the effects of this however, is that, as a rule, you can't install or update software as a restricted user. This certainly applies to Internet Explorer which is updated along with the operating system as part of Windows/Microsoft Update.

Chrome however, can be updated with bug fixes and new releases while logged on as a restricted Windows user.

A normally installed copy of Firefox requires the user to be an administrator to update the browser. Fortunately, this is not the case with the portable version of Firefox, one of many reasons I shifted exclusively to the portable version.

14. Both Mozilla and Google pay anyone who finds a bug in their browser and brings it their attention. Microsoft does not. As a result Mozilla and Google are more likely to be aware of their bugs. You can't fix a problem you don't know about.

I would have included this in the original article, but I mistakenly thought that only Google paid a bug bounty. However, a June 29th article, here at Computerworld, by Gregg Keizer, says

Only Google and Mozilla pay bounties to independent security researchers who report browser bugs. Both companies have argued that bounties, although nowhere near the money that a criminally-inclined researcher could receive on the black market, improve the security of their applications.

Update July 1, 2011: Internet Explorer market share continues to fall.

Update August 18, 2011: Reason 15.

An article by Larry Seltzer, New Ways to Force Browsers to be Safe discussed both the HTTPS Everywhere extension for Firefox and the new HSTS protocol supported by both Firefox and Chrome. As for IE, Seltzer says: 

Currently Internet Explorer has no support for either and I see no indication that Microsoft plans to support them (or that the EFF is interested in supporting Internet Explorer for that matter).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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