Browser Smackdown: Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera vs. Safari

Four experts go head-to-head (to-head-to-head) to defend their Web browser of choice in an opinionated free-for-all.

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Firefox (continued)

Security? IE Sure Needs It

What about security? IE7's aggressive security will interrupt you frequently with yellow bars and other prompts to deliver the same security that Firefox offers out of the box. If you want to feel like you're browsing from jail, be my guest. I prefer the feeling of freedom Firefox engenders.

Firefox, Opera and Safari won't run ActiveX applets, and that's a big part of why they are innately more secure than IE. It's true that ActiveX is comparatively easy for developers to code, but it lacks the security features of Java. We are paying for a mistake Microsoft made in the early 1990s. Instead of building ActiveX the way it should have been built, Microsoft is throttling the client software -- which is the security measure of last resort. The future is open-standard Java and JavaScript.

Whose antiphishing technology is better? Let's be serious. Internet Explorer is currently the only browser that absolutely requires this technology. It's also the only one that needs protected-mode browsing (only in Vista) or any of the other "locked down" stuff that Microsoft is touting. IE is literally unsafe on the Internet without antimalware and antiphishing protection. That's just not the case with other browsers.

It's true that this is not because of some better design in Firefox, Opera or Safari. It's because most spyware, malware and phishing exploits are about one thing: Making money. And the focus is on the browser with the overwhelmingly superior market share. As the browser with the next largest share, however, Mozilla (and the rest) is smart to get ahead of the game on phishing protection. I'd like to see these companies work harder on malware protection too.

Firefox: It's the Real Thing

When all is said and done, Web browsers represent a very mature product category. When the hot features in IE7 are browser tabs and RSS support, you know for sure that it's not about features. That's similarly true of Firefox 2.0, where the big cool features are inline spell-checking for forums, blogs, comments and Web form posts; a session-restore feature; and an Undo Close Tab feature.

New in Firefox 2: inline spell-checking.
New in Firefox 2: inline spell-checking.

So, again, it's not about features, it's about the user experience. While Microsoft has finally deigned to give IE users tabbed browsing and RSS support, the security lockdown and possible compatibility issues represent a larger disadvantage that outweighs the improvements.

Microsoft is also further seeking to extend its market share by rolling out IE7 in Automatic Updates, along with high-priority and critical operating system updates. Microsoft calls this "opt in" because it is possible to tell Automatic Updates not to install IE7, but it should be called "opt out" because the default behavior is to install IE7. So you could say you're getting an unsolicited 14.78MB Web browser.

Mozilla's Firefox is the only browser development effort that is truly focused on the user, instead of on the needs of the company building the software. That very definitely shows in the finished product. Firefox 2, though not an ambitious upgrade, is a better browser than the 1.5 version that preceded it. In use, it provides the best overall user experience. When you come right down to it, that's the essential factor in your choice of a Web browser.

Related Links

Download Firefox 2 (Mozilla)

Firefox 2 release notes (Mozilla)

Review: Firefox 2.0 -- Not Radical, but Just Right (Computerworld)

Mozilla: Firefox anti-phishing tool better than IE7's (Computerworld)

Firefox 2.0 first impressions: So-so upgrade, great browser (Computerworld)


Browser Smackdown: Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera vs. Safari


Firefox logo
Firefox 2

Simply put, Firefox is

the best browser of all,

says Scot Finnie.


IE logo
Internet Explorer 7

IE enjoys 80% market share for good reason, says Preston Gralla.


Side-by-Side Comparison

Get a peek at how each browser handles key features and functions.


Opera logo
Opera 9

It's all about features, claims Dennis Fowler, and Opera's got the most.


Safari logo
Safari 2

On the Mac, Safari is untouchable, according

to Ken Mingis.


Reader Poll

Vote for your favorite browser.

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