Too good to ignore: 6 alternative browsers

Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari lead the market, but there are other browsers out there for PC and Mac users. Which are better?

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Maxthon 2.1.4

Windows logo

If you're looking for a browser that bristles with power features, and don't mind a somewhat unattractive interface and some confusing configuration, then Maxthon is the browser for you. It's got just about every feature built into competing browsers, and many that you won't find anywhere else -- such as a "file sniffer" that makes it easy to download YouTube videos and a pop-up notepad for pasting or dragging text you want to save. Power users will love it. Those who like sleek design will turn away.

The interface is quite cluttered, with a file menu, Address Bar, Favorites Bar and other toolbars, and stray icons near the top and bottom of the screen. Think of it as the un-Chrome. But there's a reason for the clutter: The browser has so many features, they need to fit somewhere. And you can customize the interface, if you like, to cut down on the clutter.

Maxthon has far too many features to cover in a short review, but among my favorites is its great tab and window handling. You can, for example, create two side-by-side browser instances, each with their own tabs; you can create tab groups; you can "tear off" a tab into a separate browser instance and then recombine it; you can assign a shortcut key to any URL and visit that URL just by pressing the key -- and that's just for a start.

The browser also uses "mouse gestures," so that you can navigate forward, backward and so on by moving your mouse in a certain way. It has a great tool for filling out Web forms, a built-in screen capture tool, and an innovative search screen that lets you do a search and then click on tabs in that screen to see the results from various search engines. And there's a CPU Saver mode that minimizes Maxthon's processor use, freeing up your CPU for other tasks.

All that is to the good, but there are some problems, mostly because Maxthon uses the same Trident rendering engine used by Internet Explorer. For example, click Tools --> Internet Options, and you'll come to a familiar tabbed Internet Options screen. In fact, it looks like the screen for changing Internet Explorer's options -- because that's exactly what it is.

There's far more than all this, and there are plug-ins available as well. You simply won't find a browser with more features.

Alternate browsers

Maxthon's interface is busy with features.

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In fact, when you make a change to the Maxthon Internet Options screen, you'll also make changes to Internet Explorer. And while this screen has an option for setting your home page, it won't work for Maxthon -- you need to select Tools --> Maxthon Setup Center and make your changes there. I contacted Maxthon, and a rep told me that the Options screen is used to control the Trident rendering engine only, and doesn't affect other Maxthon options such as setting the home page.

Still, if you're a power user, you can get used to those eccentricities. If you're looking for the most features in a browser, live with Maxthon a while, and you may learn to love it.

-- Preston Gralla

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