August 08, 2009
Time To Upgrade Your Browser

Are you using an old web browser? If you are then you are running the risk of a large assortment of exploits that can compromise the security of your machine. You are also needlessly experiencing a slower and lousier interface. I am looking thru web log reports from my site for July 2009 and I see that while many of you are on the cutting edge some are lagging way behind.

For example, out of the about 1.5 million page loads this site got in July 2009 from MS Internet Explorer over 627 thousand were done with IE 6 (more than the 596 thousand with IE 7). Well, in addition to being slow and buggy and feature poor (and I hear you saying "don't hold back") IE 6 is a pox on the internet that holds back web site development. Sites do not want to lose compatibility with IE 6 and so site developers do not make as much use of the newer HTML features (e.g. better cascading style sheets) in the later browsers. If you are using IE 6 you are holding back development of the Borg conscious. Plus, you probably are vulnerable to more security exploits.

If you are using a browser as old as IE 6 on Windows you have the potential to move up to a much newer browser that is a joy in comparison. First off, you should visit windowsupdate.microsoft.com and download the latest security fixes along with the latest version of Internet Explorer. Then turn on automatic security updates in the Control Panel.

But once moved up to IE 8 you are still far from the best browser experience. Even IE 8 seems slow to me when switching tabs and creating new tabs. On Windows there are better choices. I do most of my content searches for blog posts using Firefox (also available on Linux and Mac OS). Go download it if you've never tried it. Its tabbed browsing works much better than IE 8 and I can't believe that Microsoft hasn't done more to try to close the gap with the better competing browsers. In the Firefox v3.5 series the Javascript optimizations make a substantial difference and the Mozilla folks continue to improve the product in many ways. FuturePundit users who use Firefox do a good job of keeping up with Out of the 1.89 million pages loaded in July by Firefox 1.73 million were loaded by Firefox 3 or later. People who use Firefox tend to keep up on security fixes and new versions. Good for you.

If you are on Windows or Mac you can also download Apple Safari. On Windows I do not find any real advantage from using this. But I sometimes fire it up just to see how it is progressive. Safari scores well on benchmarks for standards compliance. Also, with Safari 4 Apple has met the Google Chrome challenge with fast Javascript native code compilation.

Another option is Google Chrome. Chrome uses the same open source WebKit HTML rendering engine that Apple Safari uses (Apple open-sourced it - good for them) and Chrome is very similar to Safari in the admin settings pop-down lists. But Google was the the first to release an extremely fast native code generator for Javascript. Some of the other browser vendors are following Google's lead (including the aforementioned Safari). For example, starting with v3.5 Firefox also has a Javascript native code generator that boosts performance.

Another browser worth trying: Opera from Norway. As a sometimes web site developer (though I spend most of my time in C drivers and C++ in user space on Linux) I like that Opera has their Dragonfly Javascript debugger. But for most of you Opera has a different take on how to structure a browser UI. One of the features I like there: Paste and Go as a paste option when pasting in a URL. I wish more browsers had this.

Also in July I had 18,000 pages fetched by Netscape 4 and 1300 fetched by Netscape 7 and even 480 fetched by Netscape 8. I didn't even know there was a Netscape 8. Well, get off of Netscape people. Netscape is dead. It is a dead parrot. You might like the plumage. But it is dead, dead, dead.

If you want to use a browser that is like the classic Netscape in UI layout and with more bundled functionality (e.g. email) then Mozilla Seamonkey fits the bill. Seamonkey is built from the same Gecko source code project that Firefox is built from the HTML rendering, CSS, and Javascript support. But it is packaged in a different UI. I happen to use Seamonkey for a few things so that I do not have too many pages open just in Firefox. For example, I write blog posts in Seamonkey while I search for blog material using Firefox. This lets me restart Firefox without losing partially written posts.

I do not test my own site with IE 6. If it works for you that's by luck. Whether or not it works for you move up to something newer and better. This site is about the future. IE 6 is about the past.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 August 08 01:38 PM  Miscellaneous Coverage


Comments
nona said at August 8, 2009 2:39 PM:

Randall,

Apple did not open source webkit, but rather use it. Webkit is a FOSS project that started with Konqueror I believe. The HTML stuff is also a part of it, the ever more important javascript engines vary between browsers, even if they are based on webkit.

Randall Parker said at August 8, 2009 2:47 PM:

nona,

It was my (possibly incorrect) understanding that Apple started with KHTML, made huge changes, and then voluntarily released their changed version back into the public domain.

But now I just looked it up and while WebKit was a fork of KHTML the license for KHTML is LGPL. So Apple didn't have the option of keeping their changes secret? But WebKit has LGPL components and an overall BSD license. So I'm confused by the licensing history. Did Apple add BSD pieces to an LGPL libray?

Maybe Apple had no choice but to keep the LGPL pieces in the public domain.

Nick G said at August 8, 2009 6:01 PM:

Well, I downloaded Firefox, and it seems a lot faster. IE has seemed awfully slow for a long time, so this is a big help.

Thanks.

spindizzy said at August 8, 2009 7:39 PM:

No doubt some of those IE6 hits will be from me. I do understand how bad IE6 is and I use Firefox at home, but for whatever reason the IT department at work has a fetish for obsolete Microsoft products.

dude said at August 8, 2009 7:51 PM:

Firefox is pretty awesome. Try the adblock add-on, that one is really nice. Also the flashblocker is nice.

Guillaume Theoret said at August 8, 2009 9:11 PM:

Thank you for this post, IE6 is indeed a pox upon the internet.

Personally, I use Chrome.

Back when Chrome came out its javascript engine was 10-15 times faster than Firefox and Safari. Now that both have new engines rewritten from scratch they're only about 1.5-3 times slower. IE (even 8) doesn't even compare. It's in the 30-50+ range I believe last time I checked. Going back to Firefox just seems sluggish now. I just can't deal with the massive memory leaks stemming for having multiple windows with multiple tabs open for weeks. I read an interesting quote the other day relating to browser performance: Chrome is the new Firefox. Firefox is the new IE.

Randall Parker said at August 8, 2009 9:30 PM:

Guillaume,

I find Chrome to be inferior to Firefox for a few reasons:

1) Firefox has more settings. I want to do more configuring.

2) Firefox's settings for internet connectivity aren't linked to a core set of browser internet settings shared by IE. So you can customize Firefox (e.g. to access local devices when doing dev work) without messing with IE's settings.

3) Firefox plug-ins are great. I love Tab Mix Plus. I use several others including ones for debugging.

4) Chrome's debugger sucks compared to Firebug. I was just debugging a Chrome incompatibility on Friday and found the debugger pretty limited.

5) I do not see a memory problem with Firefox 3.52. Right now I have about 200 tabs open and Firefox is using 767 Megs.

6) Firefox's use of a single process is actually an advantage because with lots of Chrome tabs open working on separate processes the combined set of those processes eat up all the total CPU. With Firefox still restricted to a single thread it takes very little of the second core on my dual core CPU.

The web benchmarks do not show a clear winner between Firefox, Chrome, and Safari at this point. I like the functional richness of Firefox. I wouldn't want to use any of the other browsers as a replacement for it. I use them all. My work requires it. Plus, at home I use a few browsers. So I've got recent experience with which to make this judgment.

not anon or anonymous said at August 8, 2009 10:00 PM:

Randall, you can set the proxy on the command line the "--proxy-server=" command-line argument (eg, edit a shortcut's target property) followed by address:port (without any intervening space), or followed by nothing to simply bypass IE settings. IMO, it's a horrible way to handle this configuration, and even Firefox's reliance on system settings in HTTP requests has been cause for frustration.

Lono said at August 9, 2009 1:22 PM:

Randall,

Wouldn't it be fairly safe to assume that the reason their is still a substantial IE 6 presence on the internet is due to the fact that various wrong-headed IT Dept's have their customized systems fully bug tested for this browser compatibility and they are not given any budget or support to modernize their systems from their sociopathic upper management.

I know that is the case at the company I work for.

That's what top driven imperfect Human hierarchies get you - way to go species!

w00000t!!

Randall Parker said at August 9, 2009 1:43 PM:

Lono,

Yes, corps are one reason. But it is not clear to me what percentage of remaining IE 6 installs are corporate. I saw enough other old browser visits (which are not corps) that I figured it would help to write this blog post.

Since I do not visit my own site during my own work day I do not have a good way to find out how much IE6 marketshare varies by time orf day or day of week. You can watch browser market share on my site at this page and see how IE 6 percentage goes up and down.

Michael G.R. said at August 9, 2009 7:32 PM:

My main browser is Safari 4 (on OS X). I love the speed, and don't really mind the lack of extensions.

I'm looking forward to trying Chrome on OS X, though.

Firefox is nice, but too slow for my taste, and I dislike the way the scroll wheel works ( a small thing, but annoying).

Rollory said at August 14, 2009 4:52 AM:

Funny. I use Firefox 1.0. I thought you were going to have specific things to say about that.

I have tried Firefox 1.5, 2.x, 3.x. In every case the new version took away features that I liked in the previous ones while adding ones I didn't want. 1.0 is the one that works the way I want it to. I'll stick with it. (The ONE serious problem is that some pages do things with Javascript that cause a total crash of the browser. This is resolved by disabling Javascript before going there; then it displays fine. It's certain specific sites, most don't have this problem.)

As for exploits, I know enough to run a pretty tight ship. I haven't had any hostile software on my machine in nearly ten years.

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