Browsers, who needs 'em? Well, basically, we all do so why not make the best of a necessity. Let's take a look at some of the things we want from a browser, perhaps over and above a basic ability to navigate the internet.
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
A browser is a bit like your car (or bike) and should be chosen for many of the same reasons.
Let's look at the "ride" first. A good browser needs to feel comfortable and get you from A to B (Amazon to Bing?) with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of comfort. Most browsers provide this to varying degrees as a matter of course but how's the sat-nav...err..I mean the bookmarking? What we're looking for here is a simple way of pointing the browser to your favourite sites and heading straight to them. Most browsers now handle this very well, with Apple's Safari scoring high on my list alongside Visual Explorer, one of the new kids on the block.
Whilst we're on the car metaphors it's probably worth mentioning that most browsers are free, so fuel costs are not an issue.
Pimp my Ride
Customization! Oh yeah, go-faster stripes and chrome wheels. Actually, no, but there is a great deal to be said for customizing your browser and this is where the pack really starts to get split up. From simple color schemes to incredible widgets there are any number of ways to enhance your browser. Until very recently (although they're making steady progress now) Opera and Internet Explorer were at the back of the pack on this one while relatively newer browsers like Firefox forged ahead. Many add-ons are produced for many browsers, and many of those are duplicated across those many browsers. It's quite logical when you think about it, if you've got a good product people are going to want to use it on their particular choice of browser but I'm not going to go into huge detail about the more esoteric chunks of code you can add to browsers.
What do you actually need? How about a new paint job? Silly though it may sound at first the color scheme of your browser can add a lot to your surfing experience. Let's face it, you're staring at your browser for a great deal of your online time and you may want it to be easy on the eye. I hold that a good browser is one you don't actually "see" while you're using it so it needs to fit in with your desk top, or your more regularly used software applications. Visual Explorer has a neat trick up it's metaphorical sleeve here with a nice selection of built in themes you can change to at the click of a mouse. Of course you may want your browser to stand out from the crowd, and Firefox, (along with may other browsers, especially Visual Explorer and more recently Internet Explorer) has the ability to download a vast array of custom built themes and color schemes from all over the web. People spend a lot of time developing these themes and are good enough to then give them away for free. Compare that to what you'd pay to get your car resprayed, and these don't even have to be permanent.
How's The Handling?
How are the controls in your car set out? Much development time has been spent by car manufacturers on designing a good ergonomic layout for everything from the wiper switch to the steering wheel. The same should be true of your browser. You want to see all of your controls set out neatly and close to hand, or mouse. One of the latest innovations in this field seems to be mouse gestures. Mouse gestures are a way of controlling various browser commands by simply moving your mouse in a particular manner, usually along with holding down a key of your choosing. As a quick example you could set up your browser to open a new tab every time you hold the "T" key and flick your mouse to the right. Some browsers allow you to download an add-on to accomplish this (Internet Explorer, Firefox) whilst others (Opera, Visual Explorer) have it built in. I have to stand up and be counted here, as I thought mouse gestures were a silly gimmick to start with, but once I'd created my first gesture and used it a few times more followed in rapid succession. One word of warning here though, you have to remember all of the gestures, so it's probably best not to overuse the feature.
Across The Finish Line
There we are then, the most basic requirements for a happy browsing experience. I hope you find my thoughts useful when choosing your browser from looking at the catalogs to driving one off the lot.
This article is reproduced courtesy of Paul Salmons writing for Digital Twist.