Browsing opportunities: 11 Web browsers tested

Feeling entrenched in your choice of browser? Break free! We compare 11 different browsers so you can find the right one for you and your company.



Feeling entrenched in your choice of browser? Break free! We compare 11 different browsers so you can find the right one for you and your company.


Contents
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

If you're not entirely satisfied with the Web browser you use now, chances are someone else has had the same thought -- some may have even done something about it. You certainly are not restricted to Internet Explorer, Netscape, and for Apple users -- Safari. There are literally dozens of browsers out there ready to be downloaded from the Net -- free or for purchase. None are particularly expensive (about AU$50 at worst, and this includes technical support). You can visit Evolt.org for a listing and download of more than 100 browsers. In this review we sample 11 options -- including the three named above.

So, what is it that you are dissatisfied with? From the point of view of Web development, the Web page Rendering Engine is the feature of greatest significance. While there exists international standards for Web page functionality, different browsers follow the standards with more or less accuracy. While most modern Web sites should be designed with a variety of browsers in mind, you may still encounter problems on occasion.

Security
While getting information easily is the whole point of the Internet, sometimes you can be supplied with data all too easily -- and not at all what you would want.

What's more, information might be clandestinely taken from you. Java- or ECMA-Script and Java are pretty secure, but turn them off if you're concerned about what they can do, after all, such code can be used to produce powerful applications within a Web-page -- and a malicious coder may want them to escape from the confines of your browser. Fortunately, they shouldn't be able to access your file system without your explicit permission.

Web-bugs and cookies can collect data, such as: "Who accessed this page and when?" More serious privacy/security concerns arise from drive-by downloads and viruses contained within legitimate downloads. Drive-by downloads are small files that are downloaded without your knowledge when you access certain sites. These files may then use the Web whenever you're online and download other files without your knowledge. Serious spyware applications can operate in this manner. When fully assembled, your computer could be an open book to hackers.

Internet Explorer has some basic content-filtering built in, and the browsers reviewed here all have controls to restrict cookies, scripts and Java applets. They all support Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol for protection of information on secure sites. (So you bank account details are safe when you make online transactions, etc.)

Other tools are available to some browsers. For example, Secondary Browser has a cookie viewer -- find out what data is being collected about you.


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Avant Browser

Internet Explorer users will immediately feel comfortable with this browser. Button icons and menu layout are similar, but more functions are available. In fact, Avant Browser inherits most of its functionality directly from the version of IE installed on your system.

Generally I found it very easy to use, although it isn't keen to start up offline. The application window can act as a standard multiple document interface with tiled or maximised windows; tabs allow easy access to each window. It has good navigation controls, and page zooming and search toolbars are present. Language support is excellent, with the interface being able to switch instantaneously between any of 34 languages -- provided your computer is set up to support the appropriate fonts.

The product is free, but donations are keenly accepted by Avant's author. Customer support is provided via a Web forum. Avant is available for MS Windows only and is reliant on the presence of Internet Explorer.

Product Avant Browser 10.0
Price Freeware, donations appreciated.
Vendor Avant Browser
Email author@avantbrowser.com
Web www.avantbrowser.com
 
Interoperability
½
Excellent language support, but Windows only.
Futureproofing
Somewhat MSIE dependent, regular upgrades.
ROI
Fair quality and easy install.
Service
Web forum only.
Rating
½
Avant Browser

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Camino

Camino is a Mozilla browser optimised for the Apple Mac. While this is not the most feature-packed browser available, it does have all the basics, plus tabbed windows. Being Mozilla, it uses the standards-compliant Gecko layout engine. The history list is not overly user friendly, as it can only be made visible instead of a Web-page; thus it must be found in the relevant menu each time it is required.

A Google search bar is present and various language versions are available. The software is a free download, but a disk version with manual is available for a small fee. Product support can take the form of online forums or paid phone support. For Mac OS X only.




Product Camino 0.8
Price Free download or ~AU$20 with disk+manual.
Vendor Mozilla
Email see Web site
Web www.mozilla.org/products/camino
 
Interoperability
½
MacOS only, multilanguage.
Futureproofing
½
Standards compliant, secure, some add-ons.
ROI
Fair quality and easy install.
Service
Paid phone support available.
Rating
½
Camino

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Faststone 4in1

This is another IE-based product so IE users will find it all fairly familiar. Note that the IE-based browsers will normally share the IE history files and "favorites". New address requests are automatically opened as new tabbed windows. It does not, however, have a built-in search toolbar or zoom functions.

Besides the standard browser features, however, Faststone 4in1 can also act as a HTTP Web server and also has screen capture facilities. The screen capture can be used on any part of the screen, but you can't minimise Faststone once the capture process is initiated, which limits its use. The fourth feature (4-in-1) is an FTP client, but this is a fairly standard browser feature.

This is another free software package, so don't expect too much backup. There is a support e-mail address -- customers purchasing Faststone wares will presumably get some sort of reply. Faststone gladly accepts both criticism and monetary support for the improvement of their wares. For Windows users only.

Product FastStone 4-in-1 Browser1.2
Price Freeware, donations appreciated.
Vendor FastStone Soft
Email support@faststone.com
Web www.faststoneserver.com
 
Interoperability
Windows only.
Futureproofing
Somewhat dependent on MSIE, secure.
ROI
Reasonable features.
Service
E-mail support.
Rating
½
Faststone 4in1

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Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Firefox

This is Mozilla's flagship browser. Based on the Firebird browser this is a highly configurable package with many add-on tools available from the Mozilla Web site.

Firefox makes use of the Gecko layout engine. The interface appearance and operation is very similar to IE. Firefox has tabbing, a Google toolbar, and optional zoom add-on. If you try to work offline, the logon window will come and haunt you every few minutes, but this won't worry most users.

Firefox is currently available in 27 languages. While the software is free to download, you will need to pay for disk and manual or phone support. Free support is also available through online forums. Versions of Firefox are available for Windows Mac OS and Linux operating systems. Interestingly, this software takes up considerably more disk-space than the other browsers reviewed (52MB) -- flexibility has its price.

Product Firefox 1.0PR
Price Free download or ~AU$20 with disk and manual.
Vendor Mozilla
Email see Web site
Web www.mozilla.org/products/firefox
 
Interoperability
For Windows, Mac, and Linux; multilanguage.
Futureproofing
Standards compliant, secure, plenty of add-ons.
ROI
Lots of features, pay for phone support.
Service
Paid phone support available.
Rating
½
Firefox

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Internet Explorer

Microsoft provides this browser as part of the Windows operating system. As already noted, various other browsers are little more than add-ons to this software. Security is high -- frustratingly so at times -- but also configurable. Content filters are standard -- and are inherited, along with other security and privacy tools, by IE dependent browsers.

The user interface is reasonable to use, it's just a pity that there is no facility for multiple document handling or zooming. A Google search toolbar add-on is available and IE supports instant messaging for Web-based e-mail accounts. Twenty-four language versions are available.

Basically this is a Windows product, but other versions exist for Mac OS X. The program and updates can be downloaded free. Product support is covered under Windows' five-year+ "Lifecycle" program.

Product Internet Explorer 6
Price Free download
Vendor Microsoft
Phone 132 058
Web www.microsoft.com/windows/ie
 
Interoperability
For Windows (this version), multilanguage.
Futureproofing
Secure, regular updates, add-ons available.
ROI
½
Microsoft could afford a few more features.
Service
Microsoft lifecycle support.
Rating
Internet Explorer

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

iRider

Wymea Bay have given us something a little different, at least in terms of history/navigation. A tree menu similar to the history list of Netscape provides access to all currently loaded Web-pages (rather than using tabs). This provides us with a session history complete with "thumbnail" pictures of each page. Full history details appear in a separate window; tracking history by keeping everything open does, however, use a fair chunk of your memory (you can limit this). Also, a page opened from history may well be opened by iRider. (On my computer with nine browsers installed, Avant continually hijacked the link!)

One "tab" is a multiple site-search page which is bound to have your favourite search engine. Navigation controls exist for every eventuality and pages can be zoomed. iRider is a very neat IE-based product, fully integrated with IE's history lists. Clearly intended for ease of surfing rather than Web-page development, it does what it does very well. This product can be purchased for about AU$38 and comes with full e-mail-based support.

Product iRider 2.21
Price Download 21 day trial, then ~AU$38
Vendor Wymea Bay
Email custserv@irider.com
Web www.irider.com
 
Interoperability
Windows only.
Futureproofing
Somewhat dependent on MSIE, secure.
ROI
Reasonable features.
Service
E-mail support.
Rating
½
iRider

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Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Netscape

AOL provides Netscape as an alternative to Internet Explorer and as a base for its Internet services. It will import IE favourites to its own bookmark folder. Unlike IE, the Netscape history list allows you to hold open a list of pages from more than one site at a time and provides for tabbing between multiple open Web-pages. It has a tab providing access AOL's own propriety search engine.

Security facilities are comparable with IE, and AOL provide similar instant messaging services. Netscape makes use of the open source Gecko layout engine. A good all-round product for all users. Customer phone support is available at a price -- the software itself is free, although you can purchase disk and manual. Netscape operates under Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux.




Product Netscape 7.2
Price Free download
or ~AU$20 with disk+manual.
Vendor Wymea Bay
Phone 1-800-411-0707 (support-US)
Web www.channels.netscape.com/
 
Interoperability
½
For Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Futureproofing
½
Standards compliant, secure, plenty of add-ons.
ROI
Reasonable features.
Service
Paid phone support available.
Rating
Netscape

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Opera

Opera is not just a Web browser; it is has an integrated POP/IMAP e-mail client with address book and chat room support. Menus and toolbars are clear and easy to use. Tabbed windows, zooming and search toolbars are all present.

The history could be improved with a "by site" listing, although the search facility mollified me somewhat.

Session history, including all currently open pages, can be saved for your next session. Opera can be set to identify itself as Mozilla, MSIE, or itself to improve Web site compatibility.

Twenty language versions exist and product pricing is somewhat negotiable. It costs about AU$50, or you can just put up with the fairly unintrusive advertising -- which can be set to select ads based on your Google searches. The only difficulty I had was setting it up for automatic dial-up upon startup!

Page layout is generally compatible with the Gecko engine. It would seem that just about every platform you could want is catered for by Opera, including mobile devices (in limited form and price). One year's full e-mail-based support comes with your purchase.

Product Opera 7.54
Price Free with ads or ~AU$50 without
Vendor Opera Software
Phone see Web site
Web www.opera.com
 
Interoperability
Multilanguage and multiplatform.
Futureproofing
Standards, compliant, secure.
ROI
½
Lots of features, pay for support.
Service
1-year e-mail support.
Rating
½
Opera

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Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Safari

This is the standard browser supplied with the Apple Mac operating system. Menus and toolbars are satisfactory, but there are few options for customisation. Tabbed browsing is supported as is a Google search bar, but page zooming is not available. History appears as items in the history menu. One thing Safari does have going for it is speed; as you would expect, Apple is able to optimise it to suit their own operating system. Safari developers work with the Open source community, thus it is Mozilla-Gecko compatible.

It is a fairly basic browser, but it gets the job done. Being part of the Mac operating system, it is covered by the customer support for Mac OS X, there is no additional charge associated with downloading it -- although Apple does track who downloads.




Product Safari 1.2
Price Free download
Vendor Apple
Phone 133 622
Web www.apple.com.au/safari/download
 
Interoperability
Mac OS language support.
Futureproofing
½
Standards compliant, secure, regular updates.
ROI
Reasonable features.
Service
Support covered under OS.
Rating
Safari

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Secondary Browser

This is a non-standard browser for administrators rather than your average Web surfer, or even developer. Tools exist for checking the speed of access to Web sites and reporting process for trouble times. There seems to be no facility to browse local drives, although local files can be accessed if you know the path. A fault in the interface sometimes hides the cursor in the address bar, which can thus appear to be without keyboard focus.

The tabbing is excellent as it allows for multiple rows. The help file only deals with aspects that differ from more mainstream software packages. There is no search toolbar. Also, there is no proper history list apart from what appears in the drop down list of the address bar.

This is an MSIE-based program, although I found no access to the security/privacy settings through Secondary Browser. The name says it all really; use it, but not as a standalone product. Keep ready access to a primary browser. It is Windows/IE based and supports six European languages. Download a free trial and pay AU$40 if you like it. E-mail technical support is provided for registered users.

Product Secondary Browser
Price Download free trial, ~AU$40
Vendor Secondary Protocol.com
Phone 1-866-649-2948 (US)
Web www.secondaryprotocol.com
 
Interoperability
Windows only.
Futureproofing
½
Standards compliant, secure, regular updates.
ROI
Specialised, unique tools.
Service
E-mail technical support.
Rating
Secondary Browser

Click to enlarge


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

UltraBrowser

This is another special case browser, although certainly intended as your main browser. You could say that this is a wholesale product looking for distributors, although it is very functional in its own right and is free to download in its basic form.

By registering the product you can gain the ability to personalise and redistribute in that form. You can have a professional-looking browser with customised logos, colours, and menu settings on every desktop. Full branding and customisation of browser layout and language is also possible at a price.

Unfortunately it has no zoom or tabbed windows and the history list is a little hard to find. The history list can be found in the menu which strangely appears as a small button to the right of the address bar. Various search engines are supported by the search toolbar/tab. It takes a little convincing to open without going online, but it is possible, should you have the need.

UltraBrowser is dependent on Internet Explorer running under Windows. Technical support is unspecified, but it is likely to be provided in part by the corporations or ISP's that choose to have their names attached to the product. Product price is offset by potential for advertising dollars.

Product UltraBrowser
Price Free download, AU$66 full
Vendor UltraBrowser
Email partners@ultrabrowser.com
Web www.ultrabrowser.com
 
Interoperability
Windows only, language support is possible.
Futureproofing
½
Somewhat dependent on MSIE, secure.
ROI
Lots of features, pay for customisation.
Service
Special support for customisation.
Rating
½
UltraBrowser

Click to enlarge

Specifications

Product Avant Browser 10.0 Camino 0.8 FastStone 4in1 Browser 1.2
Vendor Avant Browser Mozilla FastStone Soft
Price RRP (incl. GST) Freeware, donations appreciated Free download or ~AU$20 with disk+manual Freeware, donations appreciated.
Warranty Online forum for support Web forum for support (or pay for phone supp.) Comments + criticisms accepted
Phone N/A N/A N/A
Web avantbrowser.com mozilla.org faststoneserver.org
Features      
Search toolbars Yahoo, Google Google No
Security see Internet Explorer + Flash control Script, Java, Pop-up & cookie control; SSL see Internet Explorer
Content filter Yes No Yes
Zoom Yes Text only Text only
Tabbing Yes & Multiple window Yes Yes
History Yes Yes, but not while viewing web Yes
FTP support Yes Yes Yes
PDF support Yes Add-on Yes
Instant messaging No No No
Development tools No No No
Multi-language 34 languages, instant conversion Available No
Rendering engine Internet Explorer Mozilla Gecko Internet Explorer
System Requirements      
Operating systems Windows 95-XP + IE Mac OSX (10.1.5 & above) Windows 95-XP +IE
RAM 32MB 64MB 64MB
Disk space 2.5MB 30MB 1.5MB


Product Firefox 1.0PR Internet Explorer 6 iRider 2.21 Netscape 7.2
Vendor Mozilla Microsoft Wymea Bay AOL
Price RRP (incl. GST) Free download or ~AU$20 with disk+manual Free download or bundled with Windows Download 21 day trial, then ~$38 Free download or ~$20 with disk+manual
Warranty Web forum for support (or pay for phone supp.) Microsoft 5yr+ support Email tech support Online and phone support available
Phone N/A 132 058 N/A 1-800-411-0707 (support-US)
Web mozilla.org microsoft.com irider.com netscape.com
Features        
Search toolbars Google Add-ons available Google (default) + Netscape
Security Script, Java, Pop-up & cookie control; SSL ActiveX, Script, Java, Pop-up & cookie control; SSL see Internet Explorer Script, Java, Pop-up & cookie control; SSL
Content filter No Yes Yes No
Zoom Add-on Text only Yes Text only
Tabbing Yes No Tree menu Yes
History Yes Yes Yes Yes
FTP support Yes Yes Yes Yes
PDF support Add-on Yes Yes Yes
Instant messaging No Yes No Yes
Development tools JScript console, DOM inspector Java console No JScript console, Java console
Multi-language 27 languages 24 languages No No
Rendering engine Mozilla Gecko Internet Explorer IE compatible Mozilla Gecko
System Requirements        
Operating systems Windows, MacOSX Linux i686 Windows 98-XP (Other ver. of IE for Mac) Windows 98-XP+IE Windows, Linux, MacOSX
RAM 64MB 32MB 32MB 64MB
Disk space 52MB (72MB for MacOS) 12MB 7.5MB 26MB (36MB for Mac)


Product Opera 7.54 Safari 1.2 Secondary Browser UltraBrowser
Vendor Opera Software Apple Secondary Protocol.com UltraBrowser
Price RRP (incl. GST) Free with ads or ~AU$50 without Free download Download free trial, ~AU$40 Free download, AU$66 customisable
Warranty 1yr support, via email + online forums Covered by MacOSX support Trouble reporting service, email tech support Not specified
Phone N/A 133 622 866-649-2948 (US) N/A
Web opera.com apple.com.au secondaryprotocol.com ultrabrowser.com
Features        
Search toolbars Google, Amazon, Ebay Google No Various
Security Script, Java, Pop-up & cookie control; SSL Script, Java, Pop-up & cookie control; SSL as per MSIE, cookie viewer. see Internet Explorer
Content filter No No No Yes
Zoom Yes Text only None Text only
Tabbing Yes Yes Multi-row No
History Yes As menubar item AS Menu Hard to find
FTP support Yes Yes Yes Yes
PDF support Yes ??? Yes Yes
Instant messaging Yes No No uses MSoft
Development tools JScript console, Java console N/A Web speed checking For browser only
Multi-language 20 languages As per MacOSX. 6 European languages Possible, with branding
Rendering engine Open source/Gecko compatible Open source/Gecko compatible IE compatible Internet Explorer
System Requirements        
Operating systems Windows, MacOS, Linux, Solaris, OS/2, FreeBSB, Psion MacOSX Windows Windows 95-XP
RAM --- --- 32MB 32MB
Disk space 5.6MB   5MB 1.4MB


Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Final words

While the main players are here, this review is by no means an exhaustive list of Web browsers. Many specialist browsers exist, some of which might better suit your own particular needs. Thus, although I prefer Opera and Firefox, I would still refer you to http://browsers.evolt.org for more options if you find nothing here entirely pleases. Happy surfing!

Editor's choice: Opera 7.54

T&B Editor's choice

Without a doubt, Opera is supported by the greatest range of operating systems, including UNIX and various mobile devices. Only Firefox and Netscape come close to such OS versatility. While Opera has many features built in, these two competitors have a wide range of add-ons available for download. Where Netscape falls behind the other two is in language support (and on that score, they could all learn a thing or two from Avant).

The wealth of toolbars and configuration options, along with the integrated e-mail client, inclines me to choose Opera as the Editor's Choice winner. I'm not entirely happy with its history list, but I suspect that is just a matter of familiarity. Opera is a flexible product for general use in both both homes and offices.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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Contents
Introduction
Avant Browser
Camino
Faststone
Firefox
Internet Explorer
iRider
Netscape
Opera
Safari
Secondary Browser
UltraBrowser
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.