advice on browsers

Whichever browser you are using, you might like to read my advice on setting up your browser – essential settings for default font and font size and for printing Web pages.

The default Web browser for Windows is Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). See my advice on IE below. But there is a choice of browsers available to you (whichever company you are using as your Internet Service Provider or ISP). Several browsers have long since overtaken IE in security, sophistication and ease of use. You will find below my advice on the major browsers in current use and whether you should consider either upgrading or choosing an alternative browser. Your choice of browser may be affected by your need for your browser to integrate functions in addition to browsing, e.g. Instant Messaging; e-mail; newsfeeds. To discover your browser's version, go to its Help menu and select "About ...".

Opera

I highly recommend Opera. It is excellent at displaying Web pages fast and correctly and has advanced, innovative features including high security and privacy; fit-to-width for screen and print; spam filtering; tabbed browsing; popup blocking; pass­word manage­ment; page loading in background; and Web page notes.

Opera has many useful facilities that will make your browsing easier and it is highly custom­isable to your preferences. It offers secure, virus-free browsing and its support for access­ibility (e.g. for vision-impaired users) is excellent. Opera contains an e-mail facility with advanced spam-filtering, spell-checker, and support for newsgroups and newsfeeds (newsreader/feedreader).

Opera will run on less powerful computers as well as the latest machines. It will also run on older versions of Windows. Opera Mobile and Opera Mini are designed to run on most small-screen devices such as mobile phones and other portable devices. They use compression and other techniques to give fast access even on slower wireless links. The compression means lower mobile bills if you are paying by the megabyte.

I suggest you install Opera alongside your existing browser and try it out. Installation is very easy.

Firefox

I also recommend the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser. Like Opera, it is excellent at displaying Web pages fast and correctly and has advanced features including increased security and privacy; tabbed browsing; and popup blocking. I am of the opinion that Opera is the more advanced and more innovative product but, as an alternative to Internet Explorer, Firefox would also be an excellent choice. There is no built-in e-mail facility (although there is a companion e-mail package, Thunderbird).

Chrome

Google's Chrome browser can be recommended if you have little need to customise your browser according to your preferences: like the Google search engine, Chrome takes a minimalist approach to its design.

Like Opera and Firefox, Chrome implements the latest advanced features and facilities of the international Web standards. As with Safari (mainly found on Apple products such as the Mac, iPhone and iPad) Chrome is based on the Webkit browser engine.

Internet Explorer

Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) is the default browser for Windows. See my advice on the longer-term future of IE.

Although it is not possible to uninstall IE from Windows, I cannot recommend the continued use of any version, with the possible exception of IE9 and IE8 (see below for reasons). I recommend switching to Opera or Firefox.

Which version of IE you can use depends on your version of Windows: see below.

IE10 is in development (2012). When it is released, it will run only on Windows 7 and Windows 8.

IE9 was released in March 2011. It can be installed only on Windows 7 and Windows Vista Service Pack 2. IE9 is a significant improvement on IE8 but still lags behind its competitors, which continue to stay well ahead with their frequent new releases. There remains the issue of IE's poor security track record. Security flaws are still being regularly reported in IE9 to the extent that it's not possible to have confidence in it.

For all IE9 users I recommend installing Opera or Firefox alongside it and progressively reducing your use of IE9 as you become comfortable with your new browser. The more you use alternative browsers, the lower your exposure to virus and fraud attack through IE's security weaknesses.

IE8 was released in March 2009. It can be installed only on Windows XP Service Pack 2 or 3 (SP2/3) and Windows Vista. If you are using Windows XP and haven't yet installed SP2 (or SP3), you will need to do this first.

IE8 is a significant improvement on IE7 but now lags a long way behind its competitors. There remains the issue of IE's poor security track record. Security flaws are still being regularly reported in IE8 to the extent that it's not possible to have confidence in it.

For all IE8 users I recommend installing Opera or Firefox alongside it and progressively reducing your use of IE8 as you become comfortable with your new browser. The more you use alternative browsers, the lower your exposure to virus and fraud attack through IE's security weaknesses. If you wish to continue to use IE and have Windows  7 or Windows Vista you should upgrade to IE9.

IE7 was released in October 2006. It can be installed only on Windows XP Service Pack 2 or 3 (SP2/3) and Windows Vista. If you are using Windows XP and haven't yet installed SP2/3, you will need to do this first.

During the five years between the release of IE6 and that of IE7, other browsers such as Opera and Firefox greatly surpassed IE in features, facilities and sophistication. IE7 is significantly better than IE6 but is now a long way behind its competitors. It has had no updates for over 5 years (apart from security patches). There remains the issue of IE's poor security track record. Security flaws are still being regularly reported in IE7, so it's not possible to have confidence in it.

For all IE7 users I recommend installing Opera or Firefox alongside it and progressively reducing your use of IE7 as you become comfortable with your new browser. The more you use alternative browsers, the lower your exposure to virus and fraud attack through IE's security weaknesses. If you wish to continue to use IE you should upgrade to IE8 or IE9.

IE6 was released in 2001 with Windows XP. It is also possible to run it on Windows 98 and ME (but not W95). With no update for 10 years (apart from security patches), it has fallen far behind developments in the Web. Microsoft itself campaigns for users to drop it. Its security is a serious issue.

For all IE6 users I strongly recommend switching to Opera or Firefox. If you wish to continue to use IE and have Windows XP SP2 or 3 you should upgrade to IE8.