Are you in a browser rut?

by | Sep 22, 2011 | Notes while surfing | 1 comment

Since this website is about surfing the internet, I thought I’d talk about the tools of the trade today. I’m surprised at the many people who still use Internet Explorer. Are you one of them? I have a number of customers who were, but I’ve released them from their shackles and I want to set you free, too! You’re not stuck with Internet Explorer. There’s a favorite saying among web surfers: “Friends don’t let friends use Internet explorer.” 
Even if you’re using another browser, you might want to try something else to see what you’re missing.  Every day, you go to the same web sites, interact with the same groups, and kid yourself that you’re on the cutting edge. You’re not. Did you know that websites appear differently when viewed with different browsers? Sometimes, it can be quite dramatic. Did you know that some tools may be available in one browser but not another? Even if you prefer to remain in your comfort zone, you should have a secondary browser installed.
There are a number of browsers available these days. The other top browsers, besides Internet Explorer, are Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera. Each of these browsers offer add-on support, multiple tabs, security, and other similar attributes, however there are some major differences in all of them.
Sure, it comes pre-installed with Windows, but there are only two reasons I ever use the application. The first, is to download another browser, the second is to see how badly IE renders my website designs. Yes, it mangles the designs. Most designers have to write in a special code to accommodate those clinging to IE, just so it will render the pages into something that looks close to what they want it to look like. Some just throw up their hands and put a popup advising the web visitor to install a different browser. Microsoft has been making some in-roads toward improving the browser such as adding extension capabilities, and improving the interface, but it still gives much to be desired.
If you’re using a Mac. Apple’s Safari comes pre-installed. However, you don’t have to be a Mac user to run Safari. This visually appealing browser is fast, customizable, and has built in pop-up blockers. It rarely, if ever, crashes.  On the Mac, it is set to the default and I have never changed this. I usually keep it open to read my news subscriptions and mail because I find this browser renders text very cleanly and is the easiest on the eyes. Safari does not come with developer extensions enabled. You have to enable it in preferences. Once enabled there are quite a few extensions available. To find them go to These are the extensions I have installed: The New York Times Browser toolbar, Better Facebook, Builtwith Analysis, Scribe Fire, LastPass, Buffer, Twitter for Safari, and Safari Restore.
Many of my friends claim that Chrome is blazing fast. I haven’t noticed any difference, but I haven’t played around with the settings much. The reason, Chrome is supposed to be so much faster is that you can have gadzillions of tabs open, but they are not drawing away any load time from the active tab. Each operates in its own world, so that you can be doing some work in one tab, and won’t lose any speed in another. Or, if one tab crashes, you don’t have to restart the whole browser, just reopen the crashed tab. One of the features tI also like is that Chrome has is the ability to set the startup to open all of the websites I’ve added in preferences. It eliminates an extra step. I have all of my clients’ websites, plus my own personal links (google plus, my blog, twitter, and iGoogle) as the default start up. I’ve only installed what I consider basic extensions. They are: Last Pass, G+ Tweet, Google +1 Button, ScribeFire, Shareaholic, Xmarks Bookmark Sync and Zemanta.
The name of this browser alone, tells you that it dances to its own tune. It’s a completely different browsing experience. Try out this browser and you’ll be suddenly aware that there’s a whole new world out there, especially if you are visually oriented. Like other browsers, its appearance is customizable, so I don’t mean visually oriented in that way. Everything about the browser has a “feel” and look. Take for instance, its rendering of rss feeds (your newsgroup feeds) which appear like magazine pages.  It allows you to browse with your voice or by flicking your mouse. The browser takes some getting used to, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. The first thing, you’re tempted to do when installing Opera is to go to their extensions page and start loading it up with your standby Firefox extensions. Try to change your method of thinking when you use this browser. Why? Well, first the extensions library is nothing to write home about and some of the Firefox favorites don’t work, such as Xmarks sync feature (don’t worry, you can still import your bookmarks the old-fashioned way). The second reason is that Opera is more about multi-media. It allows you to stream your photos, music, videos, and phone all together under a program it calls Opera Unite.  Opera Unite bypasses the need for servers so that you interact directly with another person. This is excellent if you’re working on a project with another person, because you can work and chat in real time, exchange files, and it does it seamlessly.
Firefox is the browser I use to get my work done. There’s a reason why its the browser of choice among web developers: its completely customizable. With the millions of add-ons available, there’s practically nothing you can’t get done in Firefox. Before I talk about extensions, I wanted to mention the great features available in Firefox. One of the best newer features is what Mozilla calls App Tabs, instead of using up valuable real estate on your tool bar, you can move the sites like your mail or twitter page, up to the tab bar where they are always accessible. You can also have tabs in groups. For instance you can have all of your social media sites open in one group; then switch to another group such as Netflix or anything. There’s also session restore, which comes built in with Firefox. If, for some reason, Firefox crashes, when you reopen it all of your tabs are restored just the way you left them. And, even if Firefox lost track of the tabs, it pops up a humorous apology “Well this is embarrassing, firefox is having trouble recovering your windows and tabs and this is usually caused by a recently opened page.” And lists the pages so you can check off the ones you want to reopen. 
Extensions (aka add-ons):
All of the browsers offer add-ons in one way or another, but Firefox is the king of add-ons with a huge community of developers adding dozens of new add-ons per minute. Don’t let the idea of having too many choices deter you from checking out the add-ons. Here’s how to find the right ones for you. There’s a place called Firefox Collections, which is like Youtube playlists. Say you’re interested in Jazz on youtube and you can see the recommended lists of songs that people have compiled. Firefox Collections is the same. Say you enjoy blogging, wouldn’t it interest you to see the favorite extensions of Problogger
Then you can pick and chose the ones that sound appealing, and if you end up not liking one you can just disable it or uninstall it all together. (A word of caution, I just noticed that the most popular add-on listed in Firefox Extensions is currently AdBlocker. I would not recommend installing it because I’ve had nothing but bad luck with it. You can try it out, but it’s notorious for causing crashes, especially when you go to flash heavy websites.)
I usually end up adding extensions based on need. I need to do some repetitive task and so I search for an add-on that will do it for me automatically. For instance, one of the scripts available is the GreaseMonkey Extension Facebook Mass Accept which allows me to click one time to accept all of my Facebook gift requests and send a gift back. Now, what used to take an hour takes a second. I click on the mouse and get back to my work, but my friends get their gifts. GreaseMonkey is an extension that offers a wide variety of tasks by adding scripts to it. You can get these scripts after you install the extension.
In addition to GreaseMonkey, these are the extensions I have installed on my Firefox browser: Add-on Compatibility Reporter, Buffer, DownloadHelper, Evernote Web Clipper, Fasterfox, Feed Sidebar, Integrated GMail, LastPass, MultiLinks, PowerTwitter, ScribeFire, Smartest Bookmarks Bar, StumbleUpon, Web Developer, WiseStamp, Youno, and Zemanta.
Of course you can over do your add-ons and I’m getting close. But, that’s OK. If you’re not using an add-on, you can disable and re-enable them at will which I often do. Disabled extensions don’t slow down Firefox. If you do notice that Firefox has become sluggish, you might want to check out your addons. One of them might be a power-drainer. To check if a add-on is causing the problem, you can restart Firefox in safemode by going to the help menu and selecting “restart with add-ons disabled.” If you notice a significant difference, its due to one of your addons. To find the culprit, disable the extensions one-by-one to find it. Of course, If you recently installed an add-on and then your troubles started then you should start with that one first.
These are the top web browsers, but there are many more available. I encourage you to check them out because you really don’t know what you’re missing til you’ve tried it.

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