Monday, June 11, 2007

Your browser is...

Hi all!

This isn't a typical coop-related post, but I'm "the tech guy," so I thought I'd geek out for a moment and get you all up-to-date on what your computer is running.

Lots of you out there are Windows users - in fact, if you follow the statistics, 19 out of 20 of you use Windows rather than an alternative like Mac OS X, or Linux. It's a Windows world out there. It's likely the vast majority of you are Internet Explorer ("IE") users as well, because it comes with Windows, and it's made by Microsoft. If you're not particularly keen on running your updates, you may even still be using IE version 6 - if you don't know, go to the Help menu, and choose "About Internet Explorer."

If you are using version 6, and you're on Windows XP, before you read anything else, at least update to version 7. Run Microsoft Update, and just let your computer get download-happy for a while. Trust me, IE 7 is important - it's much more secure (leading to fewer viruses), and as a bonus, it renders pages better as well. While you're there, just tell your computer to auto-install updates. If it's online all day, it needs them to stay secure, and to prevent nasties from crawling onto your hard drive.

That said, I don't really believe that IE is the best browser out there. Version 7 is much better than 6, but it still pales, in my opinion, in comparison to the (free!) alternatives. Those alternatives are:

Firefox (
Safari (
Opera (

Firefox is a free, open source browser from the Mozilla Foundation. Free as in costing nothing but the time to download. Open Source, meaning not only can you install and run the program, but you can also download, edit, and modify the code that creates the program - with the stipulation that you give your changes back to the community. I'm guessing that almost nobody reading this blog really wants to do that, but it's good to know that there's a worldwide community of people maintaining this program, not because they make money at it, but because they use it.

Safari is a free browser from Apple. Today they announced that the new version (Safari 3.0) will be available for Windows as well as OS X - and there's a 'beta' version of the program available for free download. It's not particularly stable, so I wouldn't recommend it as your main internet program just yet. But it's exciting that there's more competition out there. Safari, like Firefox, has an open-source core which handles the rendering of the pages - in fact, the main core of the browser comes from the KDE project on Linux. But unlike Firefox, the program is not entirely open source, so only the core can actually be tinkered with.

Opera is another browser that's been out for a while. They have a paid version, and a free version, but in the free version you have to put up with ads. I don't really like it that much, but it has a good size following, and there's lots of work being done on it - in fact, Opera's software is in many mobile phones, as well as the Nintendo Wii's internet browser.

These alternative all have a little different feel, but they all have the same advantages: they render pages faster than IE, and because they aren't directly tied into your system files, they are far more secure. They still have issues - there are security patches for each of these browsers on a regular basis - but a security issue in Firefox will generally only hurt Firefox, while a security flaw in IE can more often than not do damage to Windows itself!

As a web designer, it's also far easier to develop a web page for any of these other browsers, because they closely follow the World Wide Web Consortium's standards for web page rendering - essentially, they show pages as they are meant to be shown. IE has several 'quirks' in it's display (though IE 7 fixed quite a few of them), so as a designer, I have to make lots of exceptions and code changes - which ultimately slow down the site, so it can play nicely with all the browsers.

So hey, give one of these alternatives a try; see if you like them. I personally use Firefox on my PC and my Mac. It's got some great features and extensions, and it's very snappy showing pages.

-Your Tech Guy