Students and the browser war

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.

TOPICS: Browser, Microsoft

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.

ie-ff.pngFor 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.

ie-protectedmode.pngInternet 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.

ff-history-small.pngFirefox 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.

ie-activities-small.pngInternet 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.

ff-downloads.pngFirefox 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.

ff-addons-small.pngFirefox 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

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  • I switched, rather than fought

    You don't mention Opera, which although has very little market share, so does Lamborghini in the auto market, yet few would dispute the pedigree and quality of those cars.

    I used Firefox until the updates for the extensions came more slowly and fewer. Many of the ones I used daily were never updated. There were other extension choices, but by that time Mozilla was having problems with memory leaks.

    I went to Opera and haven't looked back.

    It amazes me that we talk about web standards but no one wants to hold web sites that use non-standard extensions that don't work correctly with browsers other than IE accountable. If the site is non-compliant to standards, don't use it - the webmaster will get the picture quickly.

    I use Opera because it has been consistently rated the most standards compliant - when something is more compliant, then I'll switch.

    (I also happen to think that many don't use IE because of the bad taste left in their mouth by MS's other practices - just a thought)
    • Opera...

      I don't have much to say other than that I totally agree.

      The Opera download manager is much more user friendly than either of the others IMO, and I now struggle to go back to IE or FF as I'm so used the the Mouse Gestures feature.
  • FF doesn't have ActiveX on purpose

    ActiveX controls pose great threats to browser and computer security. They are the one reason why so many people who don't know much about computers have all these viruses on their systems after browsing porn sites. For those people, Firefox is a godsend!

    Also, the reason people hate IE was not even touched on in this post. It's the fact that it doesn't render pages properly, something they are slowly fixing, but in my opinion it's too little too late. You did actually say that a site didn't work in anything but IE, this is due to the developer being an idiot, harsh but true.
    • Developer not an idiot

      The developer chose to make his website available to the majority (60%+)of web users. I don't think that makes him an idiot because maybe he only had time to design the site for one browser.

      Most internet users use a less standard browser but that doesn't mean the majority should be ignored (That would rather be foolish on the developers part)
      • If the developer's livelihood depended on people...

        being able to access the site, then missing out on up to 40%
        of potential customers would make the developer a complete
        A Grain of Salt
      • Great idea! Ignore up to 40% of your potential market!

        Talk about "foolish on the developer's part"...
      • Developer might not be an idiot, but then his or her boss is...

        The developer might not be an idiot, but then his or her
        boss is. When dealing with hundreds of millions of
        potential customers, ignoring the other 40% is a really,
        [i]really[/i], dumb move.

        There is [i]no[/i] reason why websites can't work with all he
        major browsers. With the current crop of available
        technologies, you can do everything you need without the
        need of ActiveX. Even if you [i]do[/i] use ActiveX, you can
        limit it to server-side scripting and applications with the
        client passing on commands (you know, the way it
        [i]should[/i] be.) Design the website from the start to W3C
        standards. It'll most likely render correctly on all the major
        browsers, including Internet Explorer. If there are still
        problems, [i]then[/i] work in workarounds.
      • fallacy

        "The developer chose to make his website available to the majority (60%+)of web users."
        Developers didn't choose to make their sites "available" to the majority users, they chose to make them UNAVAILABLE to the remainder of users.

        "I don't think that makes him an idiot because maybe he only had time to design the site for one browser."

        The whole point is, you don't have to design a sight for a specific browser. Designing browser-specific pages is wasteful and hard to support. Design to web standards, and stuff just works.

        Even excluding only ten percent of your potential customers is, in fact, abysmally stupid.
    • I can see it now...

      Forefox, the browser for porn addicts! Now that's catchy!

      BTW, Opera doesn't support ActiveX either, but I think you'd get some people's hackles up if you stated that ActiveX problems are only on porn sites. Or that people who have had browser problems are browsing porn son had his computer get nabbed by one of the 'Get a free iPod' sites. (I was watching it happen)
  • Just use Firefox with IE Tab

    Putting IE Tab near the bottom of the article is kinda silly; I think it's pretty important to realize it's not totally an either-or deal. Firefox with IE Tab gives you most of the capabilities of both. (Need to run an ActiveX control or really need an "activity" for some reason? Click the IE Tab icon to switch that tab to IE.) I think the only thing that might be missing from that combo is "Protected Mode", and I'm not sure about whether that actually has any benefit (that blog post has way too much marketing...).
  • With more and more students using Macs...

    I'm surprised you haven't at least mentioned Safari. I do
    realise that it has a smaller user base, but it is growing all
    the time. Once iPhone 3g comes out many more people will
    be exposed to Safari so its user base will climb. I don't think
    it will surpass FF or IE in the short to medium term, but I
    think it is worth a mention.
    A Grain of Salt
    • Re: With more and more students using Macs...

      Both Firefox and Opera both install nicely on a Mac and are both better than Safari.

      I can see why the author chose not to mention Safari in this case.
      • RE: Scrat

        Because it's not in the top percent of marketshare. I chose IE and FF because they are the most used browsers in the world.
        • That's odd

          You use something because it is the "most used"?
          Mike Hunt
          • He chose them for this review

            on the fact that they are the two most used browsers numb nuts.
          • Numb they are, sorry

            Didn't see the ZDNet logo, should have been my first clue......doh!
            Mike Hunt
  • RE: Students and the browser war

    I agree with previous post, I use Firefox as my main browser and use IE Tab for those site that require IE
  • IE makes web development harder

    They don't support standards which makes developing a standards compliant, 508 complaint, site compatible with IE is a pain. Where I work FireFox is the standard, but I still can't ignore IE. I can't tell you how many times I've nearly released a new feature only to realize that IE7 or IE6 (even worse) made mincemeat out of my JS, or CSS, to the point where it's unusable.

    FireFox 3 is faster, more customizable, doesn't have that ActiveX security flaw, and its more STANDARDS COMPLIANT.

    IE is holding the internet back.
    • Not IE, MS

      [i]IE is holding the internet back.[/i]

      It is MS holding back progress, in trying to make their standards the world's standard, in opposition to already widely accepted standards adopted by virtually every other browser. And it seems that there could be only one reason to reject the accepted standards: to keep out competition.
      Mike Hunt
    • IE makes Web development harder - Standards

      Every software developer (and student) should know (or be taught) the importance of programming to a standard - yet the company that dominates computing fails to set and publish standards and appears to avoid complying with standards, all to gain an advantage in 'the market'.

      Shame, MS, shame. Still, it's easy to understand why they follow this line. It gives an advantage, and 'the MS boss' never had the discipline of a teacher who insisted on knowing the standard.