The browser wars have changed. During the last couple of years, the four or five leading browsers have all greatly improved - to the point that the choice often comes down to taste or political conviction, as in 'I hate Microsoft and I'll never use IE'.

Apps may displace the browser as your working web environment, in the future, but for now, the browser is still the most visible and critical piece of your day-to-day online experience. Indeed, as Google and its myriad line of tools become more every more pervasive, the distinction between online and offline is getting dimmer by the month.

So it's fortunate that 2010 was rich with browser improvements and innovations. Here's a look at five that stand out and deserve a round of thanks from users everywhere. If you're not taking advantage of some of them yet, you're missing out.

1. Tab Candy from Mozilla

Strictly speaking, this is a future innovation, but because a preview was rolled out in July, this innovative feature deserves recognition. Tab Candy is aimed at reducing the unwieldy clutter of tabs users generate every browsing session. Instead of a string of tabs across a bar, Tab Candy allows a user to organise tabs into logical groups that can be accessed with just a click.

Say you're shopping for a camera. That search could result in five or six tabs competing for attention with everything else you've got going. With Tab Candy, the user can click on a named tab and see a thumbnail view of all the relevant pages. It's not yet clear when we'll see Tab Candy, but it may well appear in Firefox 4 in 2011. Meanwhile, here's an explanatory video by a prominent developer that will whet your appetite for this digital treat.

2. Safari 5.x

The latest versions of Apple's Safari browser for Windows and Macs add a nifty new feature called Reader. Reader allows the user to see the text of an article, free from surrounding clutter. What's more, when the article opens in its own window, you can see all of it without clicking from page to page. I suppose some publishers will be upset because Reader obliterates ads, but users won't be. Safari 5 also supports extensions that Apple collects in its Extensions Gallery. Extensions enable you to customise your browser by changing colour schemes or layouts.

3. Browsers tuned for social networking

With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like occupying more and more of our time online, it's no surprise that a number of new browsers are focused on social networking. Take RockMelt for example. It's a slick browser built on top of Chromium, the open source code base of Google's Chrome browser. Flock is built on Mozilla's Firefox code base, and it's more of a departure from the norm than RockMelt. Flock users store bookmarks in the cloud and can share them with trusted friends. Its built-in word processor makes it easier to submit blog entries to a number of services such as TypePad and Blogger.

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