Dear Readers, you might find this comparison of traffic-per-browser to NeoSmart Technologies since this articles publication interesting.
Internet Explorer 7 has undeniably come a long way. Whether you like Microsoft's giant of a browser or hate it to pieces, the fact remains that Internet Explorer 7 is the single biggest update/upgrade this browser has ever seen, very comparable to the Windows 3.1.1 => Windows 95 upgrade in Microsoft's Operating System lineup. In this mini-writeup, we will be discussing from a fairly objective position how Internet Explorer 7 now stands compared to the latest offerings from it's biggest competitors: Firefox and Opera. This isn't a comparison, there will be no "winner," not in this article at any rate!
Unlike the other so-called reviews on the web, we're not going to compare it to Phoenix 0.1 and Opera 3; we're doing the real thing here, IE7 as it stands side-by-side with Opera 9 Build 8372 and the latest Firefox weekly. This isn't going to cover the glitches and the bugs that will be sorted out (hopefully) sooner or later, we're focusing on the hard-core features and the projected audiences, to evaluate the overall product experience.
First of all, whether you ever used or will ever use IE or not, you will have benefited immensely from IE7; don't think it is a coincidence that both the Firefox and Opera product line-ups are in such a frenzy over development, it's the competition that keeps things going. So long as there was none, IE6 was king, and later on when Firefox and Opera had established their (not-so) tiny communities, they were content to stay that way.
No matter who you ask, the biggest hurdle for Microsoft and the Internet Explorer team was the fact that they were tasked with bringing a 5-year-old corpse back to life, and making it win the marathon it once lorded over. Bringing a "dead" product back to life is especially difficulty when there is such tough competition on all sides, surrounding the prey and making any task doubly hard and four times as likely to draw attention. But at the same time, this made perfection (or as close as one can get to it) 8 times more important (not sure about the math, but I think you get my drift…).
The most important thing for any browser is its shell. No matter how many computer techies or script-kiddies or hackers out there know how great a product is, it's not going to win any popularity contests if it looks like it came out of the 70s. Each of the three big browsers seem to focus on something else, to try to get their point to the user, and the product on the business table.
It seems that Opera has tried a novel approach with Opera 9, it tries to go for a very simplistic but aesthetically pleasing appearance, preferring to have almost all the toolbars hidden by default, and using a clean cream/off-white color scheme. It can take a while to get used to, but it saves a lot of screen real-estate, which is a great thing with multi-tasking on the rise. It uses it's own theme, no matter what you have enabled in Windows, and it comes with nice and crisp buttons for its many tasks. Opera is best compared to a desktop without icons: if you know what you are doing or are willing to get used to it, you will relish the outcome, even if it's awkward (for lack of a better word) to use.
Firefox = themes. Unfortunately though, themes don't come from the company itself, and as such, they don't enter the realm of this round-up. When your average Joe uses the Firefox that come on his Dell, themes won't matter because he doesn't know how to get them. This puts Firefox at a very distinct disadvantage from this angle: it would seem that the developers were so determined that their users would use themes that they didn't give a damn how Firefox looked without them: not pretty at all. One would think that they would develop a simple and minimalistic theme that ships with Firefox and is activated by default, but apparently not.
Internet Explorer 7
It seems that the developers at MS have finally realized that the least used part of Internet Explorer is it's menus. By default all the menus are hidden, pressing "alt" brings them up, and they disappear later. It would be lovely to see fade-away effects for this minimizing, but as they say, beggars can't be choosers, and it undoubtedly is a great improvement, both in the eye-candy effect and the increase in screen-space. The "new" tabs are very pretty as well, they change depending on the OS and the theme selected, but either way, Internet Explorer 7 has very appealing tabs that are very pronounced and accessible. It comes with extra tabs for the simulation of other features, but more on that later. By all means, Internet Explorer looks excellent and fresh, and no longer appears cluttered and all the toolbars have been reorganized to make it easier to use.
Though all browsers browse the web, some do it better than others, and other browsers go the extra mile and package other nifty utilities into their package, making it easier to easier to use and a more powerful tool to be mastered. But developers have to be very careful, one extra word of code and it goes from a really cool add-on to a piece of bloatware that the browser would be better off without.
Opera 8 was classified by many as bloatware. I was one of them. It was a tad too bulky, inefficient, and bloated, for my liking; but Opera 9 is almost the polar opposite. It has all the cool features a person would like, and yet (as mentioned above) aims at providing a crisp look, ensuring a lack of clutter. It doesn't have true plug-in support any more than IE does, but it does have a "widgets" function: these are mini-apps very much like desktop widgets, but they are pure AJAX-powered entities, very like the gadgets in Windows Vista. It has an excellent download manager that provides speeds comparable to GetRight or ReGet, and, like all other browsers, it has the capability of remembering passwords. However, one very disappointing revelation is that it has no support for Auto-Complete or anything of that nature, there is no textbox memory of any sort (though it does have a killer form wizard dubbed "the wand"), which makes filling out all those registration sheets with random textbox names more than just a bit difficult. Opera 9 also comes with an impossible to disable built-in torrent manager, which is a decent client, but if you would rather use µTorrent or any of your choice can make your torrent-downloading days miserable. It's basically a torrent manager for dummies, such that the end user experiences nothing different from a normal HTTP download… which makes it useless for the rest of us.
This browser gets all of its power from its plugins, and unlike above where we did not take themes into consideration, plugins build the basis of the Firefox browser. Any function you need or any feature that is "missing" can easily be reinstated by downloading one of the tens of thousands of plugins for this contender. The browser itself comes with the basics: password-memory, Auto-Complete, and the rest. The latest version of Firefox focuses heavily on history and bookmarks, a feature we find less than impressive when there are other things to be said and done.
Internet Explorer 7
Microsoft's latest installment is a feature-filled application, and its integration with the Windows operating system means that it can pack quite a few features without seeming bloated, and still opening faster than the rest due to the shared memory-space. It has all the whistles and bells that the rest do, but it still lacks what made Firefox so popular with developers and now Opera with its Widgets: a decent capacity to allow the end-user to optimize/tweak their internet browsing experience. It has several interesting additions that others don't; the two most notable being full integration of the Microsoft XML Parser that allows for RSS and Atom feeds to be displayed as user-friendly text with a nice layout instead of as pure XML or a simple list with Firefox and Opera respectively. The second feature is a tab-overview button that shows the user thumbnails of all open tabs side-by-side; which can be considered either nifty or useless depending on how you look at it. Either way, if you need it it's there; and if you don't it's not costing you anything.
Development and Innovation
A great browser is a wonderful thing, but what guarantee do you have it will stay that way? While most of the community was shocked by the lack of innovation from Internet Explorer's camp after v6; the tell-tale signs were there. When an entire version upgrade adds cookie management and nothing else, something is up. While what follows is based on hard-core facts, in the end no one know how things will end and we could end up being terribly off, but we don't think so.
It seems that Opera is dedicated to trying to accomplish a complete online experience from within their browser, taking it a step at a time, to ensure that nothing is overdone and buggy, and that it doesn't get too bloated too quickly. So long as clicking a link to an MP3 opens a different program or accessing a DOC file opens Word, Opera will continue adding functions and features; a torrent manager was only the first step. So we can continue to anticipate more innovation from this wonderful browser, which is quickly proving itself a worthy contender to appear in this list along with the other well-established two.
Here the waters are murky, but the signs don't bode well for a company that is claiming a (highly contested) 10% market share. Following news of the impending release of IE7, the developers have been in a flurry to update their browser too, but unfortunately it seems as if the version number is all what matters. In a hurry to jump the numbers up, the browser is going from 1.5 to 3.0 without the features to match; even the jump from 1.0 to 1.5 which many felt was exaggerated covered more real features than this one. While Firefox is undoubtedly a great browser, it worries us that the developers have nothing better to do than use a mini-SQL-powered engine to store the history and bookmarks when there are quite a few bigger and more important features to worry about.
Internet Explorer 7
According to Microsoft, they have learned a lesson from the stand-still of IE6, and they aren't in a hurry to repeat it. Though they promise regular updates and releases, we have been given no real guarantees, but here is how we see it. Internet Explorer 7 is a final effort at regaining lost ground and fighting an uphill battle to keep its current user-base steady, let alone increasing. However, Microsoft has packed a lot into this build compared to IE6, and there is definitely room for more. We believe that somewhere along the way MS will discover just how important user-created plugins are and what they have to offer, but even without that, there is reason for hope. Though MS made it clear that IE7 will not ever be Acid2 compliant, hints have been dropped about IE8, and a feature list w/ planning is definitely in the works for the next edition.