Barry MacQuarrie
Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome

Are you confused?

June 4, 2009
by Barry MacQuarrie, CPA

Most of us use Internet Explorer on a daily basis and don’t give it a second thought. Microsoft has made it simple to use their Web browser. All you have to do is click the little blue “E” and you’re on the Internet. But, is there a better choice? Has the competition built a better mouse trap?

Maybe …

Whether you like Internet Explorer or not, you should definitely look at the alternatives. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

I Didn’t Know I Have Options

If you have used Google recently, you may have seen an ad that looks like this:

The advertisement shows that Internet Explorer is not the only way to access the Internet, despite what Microsoft wants us to believe. In fact, according to statistics found at Browser News and W3Counter’s Global Web Stats, Microsoft’s overwhelming dominance in the browser space is slowly slipping away.

The most popular alternative to Internet Explorer is Firefox from Mozilla. Depending on who you listen to, their share of the browser market is somewhere between 10 percent and 30 percent. The newest competitor to Internet Explorer is Google Chrome. It was only released in September 2008 and has been slowly gaining market share ever since. Finally, Apple started competing against Internet Explorer when they introduced a Windows version of their popular browser, Safari.

Why Consider a New Browser?

We’ve all heard the pundits say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If I were one that follows this philosophy, I might still be using my Motorola StarTAC, after all, it worked great!

Although Internet Explorer works, there are several good reasons to look at one of the alternative Web browsers. You may just find something that works better and faster for your daily Web browsing.

Mozilla’s Web site lists the following reason why you should switch to their Firefox product:

Speed “Going from IE to Firefox is like trading in your minivan for a sports car.”
Safety “Our open-source security process means we address threats faster to keep you safe online.”
Easy to Use “Firefox's cutting-edge features are so intuitive you won't know how you lived without them.”
Customization “We offer literally thousands of ways for you to adapt Firefox to meet your unique browsing needs.”
Free “They say the best things in life are free, and Firefox is totally, 100 percent free-of-charge.”

As much as we all love “free stuff,” this is not a benefit of Firefox. All the browsers discussed in this article are available for free.

On Chrome’s features Web site, they state “Google Chrome is a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the Web faster, safer and easier.” Instead of listing features and benefits, Google has posted videos that show you the many benefits of Chrome. There has been a lot of splash surrounding Google’s new product, but I would advise you to tread cautiously. There has also been a lot of concern about the security practices of Google Chrome.

Apple’s Web site showcases several new features that they added to their latest version of Safari. The Cover Flow feature allows you to “flip through your site history or bookmarks like you flip through albums on iTunes.” It will be interesting to see if Apple can leverage their success with iTunes and the iPhone and make Safari appealing to Windows users.

But What If I Don’t Want to Change

When asked, most of us will admit that we don’t like change. So, what if that’s you and you just don’t want to learn a new browser. There is hope. Microsoft continues to improve Internet Explorer and add new features with each release.

In order to perform a fair comparison between Internet Explorer and the competition, you need to use the latest version of all products. Depending on the age of your computer, you may be running a very old version of Internet Explorer. Microsoft released Internet Explorer version 8 in March 2009.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web site includes the following list of “What’s New in Internet Explorer 8”:

View site with ease “Now you can quickly display Web sites that were designed for older browsers. If you’re looking at a page and the text or images aren’t lined up right, just use the new Compatibility View button next to the Refresh button on the Address Bar.”
Getting things done faster “You're just a few mouse clicks away from driving directions, word translation, sharing your Web discoveries with friends and more. Accelerators help you do the things you do all the time without having to open up a new window. So you can speed through everyday browsing tasks, like getting a map to a business address or forwarding a link to a friend.”
Stay more secure “Browse with more confidence knowing Internet Explorer 8 helps protect you from evolving online threats right out of the box. The new SmartScreen filter and other built-in security features help you stay safe by protecting against deceptive and malicious Web sites that can compromise your data, privacy and identity.”

Proceed With Caution

I have all four Web browsers mentioned in this article on my computer. However, my default is still Internet Explorer. Before you switch browsers, you need to do your homework.

What should you do to determine which browser is the right choice? Here are some ideas:

  • Research each vendor’s Web site to determine if their new features are of interest to you or your organization. Do the promises of a faster browser intrigue you? Do you think that the Cover Flow feature in Safari or the Most Viewed feature in Chrome can save you time?
  • Read each vendor’s approach to security? Just for the fun of it, read the license agreement. (You know that thing we all say “accept” to without ever reading the details.) Does it bother you that Google will be installing updates to Chrome on your computer without asking your permission?
  • Before switching to a new browser and upgrading your existing browser, you must test it with all of your Web applications. If you use a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) or cloud computing applications, you need to determine which browsers they support. As more and more CPAs are turning to SaaS application like Reqwired, XCM or GoFileRoom to run their practices, it is imperative that they only use supported Web browsers.
  • Don’t forget about the browser add-ons like the Google Toolbar or RoboForm. You need to test them as well.

Don’t be afraid to test these new browsers. Just do so with caution. The new products offer some very impressive features and may just improve your productivity.

Happy browsing!

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Barry MacQuarrie, CPA, is the Director of Technology at KAF Financial Group. MacQuarrie has extensive experience working with CPA firm technologies and expertise in workflow, process improvement, disaster recovery planning, security and paperless office technologies.