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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Internet Explorer (continued)

The RSS reader integrates into the new IE Favorites Center. In the Favorites Center, click Feeds, and you'll see a list of feeds and feeds folders. Click a feed to read it; click a folder to see a list of feeds in it. IE7 automatically updates your feeds -- no need to tell it to get to work.

You read a feed in a single, long page, for easy browsing. You can also search through the entire feed; sort by date, title, and author; or filter by any categories the feed has created. So if you're reading an RSS feed of a blog about Microsoft, for example, you can filter to see only entries about Vista or Internet Explorer and so on.

In Windows Vista, IE's RSS support is even better than it is in XP. RSS feeds can be displayed live, as they come in, inside a nifty RSS gadget on your desktop. That way, you don't even need to take an action to read feeds; they're right there on your desktop.

Improved Security

Everyone's biggest complaint about IE has been security, and in the past there was good reason for that criticism. But no longer. The new version of IE has been locked down to a remarkable degree. The most obvious tool is the new antiphishing filter, but there's a lot more security underneath the hood you don't see.

IE7 warns you away from sites it deems fraudulent.
 
IE7 warns you away from sites it deems fraudulent.

Several techniques protect against malware attacks, including new URL-handling protections that stop the exploitation of malformed URLs and buffer overflows from executing code without a user's knowledge. The new browser also offers cross-domain script protection that allows scripts to interact only with content from the same domain in which they originate. (This also helps protect against phishing attacks.) There are also new ActiveX protections, as well as other security features, such as protections against RSS-borne dangers (for example, it accepts only completely valid RSS feeds).

Most powerful of all new security tools is Protected Mode, available only on IE7 in Windows Vista. Protected Mode shields the operating system from actions taken by Internet Explorer or any Internet Explorer add-ins. That means that even if malware breaks Internet Explorer's security features, it shouldn't be able to do harm to your PC, because Protected Mode in essence locks Internet Explorer inside a safe box.

A Look at the Competition

There's only one real competitor to IE -- Firefox. The total market share of Opera and Safari don't even amount to rounding errors, so there's no need to consider them. Firefox, though, has started to gain traction.

But Firefox is beginning to show signs of the problems many people attribute to Microsoft, primarily an inability to innovate. Look at Firefox 2.0. Can you name a single major feature -- a single new one -- that's in the browser? The interface hasn't changed and looks dated. RSS support remains pitiful; Live Bookmarks is unusable. Mozilla hasn't even bothered to improve tab handling by adding Quick Tabs-like functions. Put simply, the browser feels old and tired. Except for extension support, which is superior to Internet Explorer's support for add-ins, IE beats it hands down.

Bottom Line

You'll no doubt be reading about Firefox, Opera and Safari in the rest of this group review, and you'll be gauging what each reviewer says about each browser to help you decide which is best.

But there's a better way to decide. Just look at the numbers -- and numbers don't lie. Internet Explorer has more than 80% of the market, and that won't change anytime soon. People are smart enough to download competing browsers if they're not happy with IE. The evidence shows that they've been happy. And with all the improvements in IE7, from RSS reading to tabbed browsing to security, they'll be happier still.

Editor's note: For reader reactions to the "numbers don't lie" argument above, see Readers say IE's market-share numbers depend on how, and what, you count.

Related Links

Download Internet Explorer 7 (Microsoft)

IE7 release notes (Microsoft)

Review: Just Say Yes to Internet Explorer 7 (Computerworld)

 

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

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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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