Students and the browser war

Summary:Note: I just want to quickly apologise for the lack of posts recently; moved into a new house and broadband won't be set up for a while, so had to resort to dial-up which is proving troublesome. I'll do my best, considering this is essentially my income, as lack of posts means I can't pay the rent.

Note: I just want to quickly apologise for the lack of posts recently; moved into a new house and broadband won't be set up for a while, so had to resort to dial-up which is proving troublesome. I'll do my best, considering this is essentially my income, as lack of posts means I can't pay the rent.

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For the last decade or so, there has been an ongoing war between Netscape (now gone), Microsoft and Mozilla, over which browser is the best and who uses it. Microsoft brought out Internet Explorer which killed Netscape Navigator, which led Microsoft to be the world leader for web browsing even up until now. Mozilla came around a few years ago, moulded from the remnants of Netscape to create Firefox, what is widely regarded as "the best web browser in the world" by many. If that is indeed the case, why isn't it the most used web browser in the world?

To be honest, I couldn't care less. However, both Windows Internet Explorer, as it is now known since the release of Vista, and Mozilla Firefox are equally fantastic browsers, for the reason that we don't have a browser on the market that's really that bad. Edit: sorry, I forgot AOL. They are truly, truly awful in everything they've done and continue to do. Moving on now...

I don't know why, but some students see certain web browsers as the reincarnation of Hitler, and take it upon their nerdy selves to criticise and humiliate. Comparing two browsers, I thought, would be a piece of cake. I use Firefox mainly but from time to time, Internet Explorer can be useful, especially to do the weekly online shop as it actually displays correctly. Instead of giving you a definitive "you should use this browser" final statement, I'm running through the great features of both Mozilla Firefox 3 and Windows Internet Explorer 7/8 Beta; ideal features for students.

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Internet Explorer 7: because it's obviously designed for Windows machines, it allows much better interaction with the operating system, to which it offers Protected Mode. This mode not only warns you when a website asks you to install software, but also when it runs the software, as this often has an effect on what happens on your computer outside of the web browser. For students, this is a valuable security feature, considering the majority of students have one machine with all of their photos, videos, notes, academic work - everything on. If that machine screws up, the chances are you are screwed yourself.

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Firefox 3: the amount of times you wish you had done your essay bibliography as you wrote, but instead you decided to do it days after you've written your actual essay and, of course, you've lost all of your links and online references. Firefox has a history library so advanced and complex behind the scenes, but reasonably easy to use on the front side of things, meaning you'll never lose anything again.

Check by date, by link, by title, you can search, you can tag, you can search tags, and using Smart Bookmarks, you can see automatically generated viewed content which has been customised by the user, without even realising it. The Firefox library is always one step ahead, and nth steps behind, keeping track of things so you don't have to.

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Internet Explorer 8 Beta: a new feature comes with this beta version, available for designers and developers: "activities". With these right-click menu items, you can perform actions on selected objects on a web page; translating a bit of text into a readable language and suchlike.

But also, WebSlices are areas predefined by the developer of the web page, which enables you to add constantly updating items to the favourites bar such as your online friends on Facebook, you can keep an eye on who you can chat with. Students could especially take to this, by being able to see whether your study partners are online but could also be alerted of when assignment marks are back.

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Firefox 3: Firefox has its own download manager which makes life much easier if you study. Considering the good proportion of any degree's material is now online, taking that content from the web to be saved locally can be an utter nightmare in Internet Explorer. On some computer configurations, you can't download more than 2 files from the same server at any one time; you have to wait until they've downloaded to continue, this way you can just click and download and not have to worry about it.

Being a student isn't all studying until 3am in the morning, downing gallons of coffee to keep yourself awake in front of the books and taking midnight strolls to the library because of your uncontrollable withdrawal symptoms. Oh no. At some point, everybody has downloaded telly off the Internet, and this makes it far easier to download those files which have been split into different segments.

Internet Explorer 7: for years, Microsoft has kept the secret of the ActiveX control, and doesn't seem to be letting go of it any time soon. ActiveX, if you don't already know, allows components to be downloaded and added to the browser to enhance content. Whether the ActiveX assists another download - Java, Adobe Acrobat or Windows Live, it still plays a vital part in keeping interactive content alive. They help keep programs outside of the browser communicating with the browser itself. Those who test Microsoft products before they come out will know about the Microsoft File Transfer Manager (FTM), which is installed with an ActiveX control. This transfers the instructions of the download to a separate program outside the browser which in turn downloads the file. Firefox, unfortunately, doesn't have ActiveX control support, which is its major downfall.

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Firefox 3: the one major thing that Firefox has over Internet Explorer is that it is fully open-source. Developers, students, IT professionals, or 40 year old virgins living in their mothers basement, can all download it and rip it to shreds and customise it to any level they wish. But because it's open source, it makes it much easier to create a development platform for add-ons, themes, extensions and other plugins.

With these add-ons, you can attach an almost unlimited supply of mini-applications into your browser to make studying and research easier to do. I've even got a plugin which lets you render a page in Internet Explorer without leaving Firefox, which makes web page development and compatibility much easier to deal with.

Final thoughts You've probably got some version of the browsers I've talked about, but if not, you can always go ahead and download them anyway: Mozilla Firefox 3, the stable version of Windows Internet Explorer 7, or if you want to keep on top of the super-standards stuff, ideal for web developers and designers, try Windows Internet Explorer 8 Beta.

Topics: Browser, Microsoft

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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