I don’t know, you wait five years for a new browser, then two turn up at once. Well, almost. I’ve been using Firefox as my main browser for, err, well. Must be a few years now – I started using it at around version 0.6, and was soon converted by its tabbed interface and the huge range of extensions which allow it to be customised and do Clever Things. I upgraded to version 1.5 when that was released, and version 2 is nearly with us. It’s now in the late “release candidate” stage, which means that apart from a few minor bug fixes here and there, it’s almost ready for final release. Woo hoo. One major change that is important to me is improvements to the handling of tabs – which means that extension I used to need are now redundant. I’m having a bit of trouble educating my brain into remembering that each tab now has its own little close button, rather than there being a single “close current tab” button on the right of the window, but it is a more logical and useful place to have the control. And as you’ll see later, it will make it easier when switching between browsers. Another nice addition is that the spell checker extension I used previously is now a standard function. And it’s easier to use, too. The last version did underline words in red, but I had to Ctrl+click to get the spelling options. Now I can just right-click, which is a wee bit quicker. Which means I can type more Losing it nonsense in less time! So far, it seems well-behaved. I’ve had one problem in Gallery, but I think I know what’s causing that, and I can still do what I need to by switching to another browser as a short-term measure. And talking of new browsers…
It’s been five years since Internet Explorer 6 appeared. Five years in internet time is around 5,000 years in human years, and it shows. IE6, quite apart from all its well-publicised security issues, had become a creaking dinosaur. While it was still the most widely-used browser, thanks to being built in to the ubiquitous Windows XP, more people were gradually moving to Firefox – some for security reasons, others for the better handling of web standards, or the joys of tabbed browsing, or because of general irritation with Microsoft. For a long time, Microsoft’s position was that there would be no new version of IE released for current versions of Windows. If you wanted a new browser, you’d have to upgrade to the next version of Windows. But as the release date of what we now know will be called Vista slipped again and again, and Firefox became even more popular, Microsoft relented. They announced that there would be a new version of IE after all. And in a rare move, they set up a blog and asked for requests. The loudest requests were for better rendering of HTML and CSS. And tabs.
And so, the coders went to work. Betas were released, and waddaya know, they were actually quite usable. I had a play with them, making myself revert to IE on my main computer to see if it was going to work for me. There were some odd changes in the user interface, but once I’d found the right place to click to bring back the normal menu bar, I was quite happy.
IE7 was officially released a couple of days ago, and you can either download it now, or wait for Windows Update to offer it to you. It is a major improvement over IE6, and I think Microsoft should be applauded for moving in the right direction, albeit belatedly. Will it lure me away from Firefox? Probably not. I’ve got used to using Firefox, and there are some things I can’t do with IE at present that Firefox makes easy. But I’m a geek – your needs may be different. Try them both and make up your own mind.
Get Firefox (current version)
Get Firefox 2 (release candidate)
 Opera also did this, but I never got on with Opera. Still don’t, though I generally look at each new verison for long enough to decide that I can’t be bothered working out how to use the thing properly.
 While Firefox itself has had some security flaws, IE’s tend to be more dangerous because it’s hooked so deeply into the operating system. Firefox also updates itself in a slightly more friendly manner – though I know of some people who have problems getting that to work.
 I love this. Rather than having loads of identical icons on the taskbar, I have tabs inside the browser window, which make it much easier to flick between web pages. When I see a link on a page I’m reading, I right-click on it and tell it to open in a new tab. This opens the new page in the background and I can then read it when I’m ready. Much more friendly than a new window popping up in front of the page I’m trying to read.
 IE6 has some entertaining bugs -see Explorer Exposed