E-mail clients and Web browsers are now essentials of business and personal life for most of us. Your choices of browser and e-mail client affect pretty much every move you make online including your active participation in new media. As such, while my quest for the perfect browser is hardly a life and death matter, I hope it makes for a decent read and gets you to try some new options, including some I guarantee many of you have never heard of before.
I wanted to like Firefox for years. Internet Explorer was and is too slow and cumbersome for my taste. Safari is sometimes really fast, sometimes comically slow, sometimes renders pages perfectly, and sometimes, well, it's "like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're gonna get." (Could that one sentence unleash the Apple police, and the real ones, after me Jason Chen/Gizmodo style?)
Chrome feels feature poor with Safari-like page-rendering challenges. Opera, which self-touts as "the world's fastest browser," never blew me away speed-wise and bench-testing versus other browsers to check page changes on my core Web site, I learned how it achieved its speed: cached pages. (Never see my latest site changes unless I manually refresh. With Opera, how many other sites on the Web am I seeing cached images for instead of the very latest?)
An opinion piece like this is almost guaranteed to bring out of the woodwork the warring factions of zealots for each of these browsers. Hey, there's a right browser for everyone; they all have their good points. Let's move on.
While I was all set to be a Firefox fan, the problem was, to put it mildly, Firefox wasn't the fastest car on the track, and along the way, I discovered two others: Avant, built on IE code, and Orca, built on Firefox. Both offer features and convenience that blow away Firefox and the rest.
Recently, though, the bloom came off the rose a bit for Avant, Orca, and me. I started having trouble with basic interactions on some key sites with Orca. No site issues with Avant, but it started bucking and kicking on page loading and turning my computer into a fan, not as in "Facebook fan," but as in the oscillating variety. After a tearful "I trusted you guys," I took a hard look at Firefox again. A quick usability check cooled my ardor -- again. Then I discovered the 2010 roster of add-ons for Firefox, which does not yet qualify as a "multitude" like the armada of apps for the iPhone but is large and growing in its own right. Here are the add-ons that finally made the current version of Firefox (3.6.3) my No. 1 draft choice:
- FireShot snaps off instant snapshots of page, screen, or any custom area you select.
- Multicolumn Bookmarks has some quirks but is currently the best way to quickly view all bookmarks on a single screen instead of scrolling.
- Tabberwocky serves up a wealth of useful tab functions including two that kept me on Avant and Orca for years: You can set it to open pretty much everything -- your bookmarks, history, and searches via URL and search bars -- in new windows automatically, so you never have to waste time backtracking to previous pages again. Similarly, you can open duplicate tabs to open new pages, e.g., to open another link on the same site without "losing" the current page
- WebRank Toolbar shows ranking of every page you land on by Google, Alexa, Compete, and Quantcast along with handy links to some of the top social bookmarking/sharing sites.
(Homage to comedian Brian Regan: "How can I get all that goodness in me?")
The fastest way to get the add-ons is to launch Firefox, open Tools > Add-Ons, and click "Browse all add-ons” link. Once there, run searches for these by the exact names above, install-restart, and you’re done. Other customizations I like are Tools > Options > General tab, check “always ask me where to save files,” and in the > Tabs tab (!) uncheck the “Warn me” options.
Having said all that, Avant still offers the most convenient screen shots capability in the business, and there is still no browser -- Firefox included, even with add-ons -- that makes bookmarks a breeze as Orca and Avant do. I’ve issued what I’m sure is a flame-ready challenge about that on one of the Firefox developer pages and have contacted an incredible developer I’ve worked with before to see if we might collaborate on a bookmark add-on.
That's my current take on browsers. What’s yours? Click here and at the bottom of any page you’ll find links to the seven leading browsers. Try them. You just might surprise yourself.