Apple's Safari, Mozilla's Firefox, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer will fight it out to be the program you use most on your PC. We look at their pros and cons to help you decide.
Firefox 3.0 packs it in
In version 3.0 of its Firefox, Mozilla hasn't changed much about the browser's basic look, but many usability changes make themselves known quickly.
Start with typing web addresses into the address bar. As you type, Firefox searches your bookmarks and browsing history for matches based on how often and how recently you visited a given site.
Here's an interesting upgrade: open either the history window or the bookmarks window. Both now live in an SQL database that displays them together. You can tag bookmarks and drag a URL from your browsing history directly into a bookmarks folder. And a new Smart Bookmarks folder catalogues your most frequently visited, recently bookmarked, and recently tagged sites.
A star icon to the right of the URL in the address bar enables you to add a new bookmark with one click, although this method unhelpfully sequesters them in an unfiled category whose contents are visible only in the full bookmarks window. If you click the star a second time, however, you can choose a particular destination folder and add tags.
Better Firefox performance and security
Firefox 3.0 passes the Acid2 test, and the beta 5 release scored 71 out of 100 on Acid3, a scant four points behind Safari 3.1. The current beta does have some known problems in dealing with sites such as Gmail and Windows Live Mail, but those issues should be resolved in the final release.
On the security front, the phishing site filter from Firefox 2.0, which uses a blacklist to block known phishing pages, now has the ability to block known malware-pushing sites as well. And faulty-fingered surfers everywhere will appreciate the revised password saver. Instead of having to decide between saving and canceling a password before you know whether it's the right one, you can now decide after logging in.
Version three adds support for EV certificates, too, and it displays a green button bearing the company's name on sites (such as Paypal) that use these certificates. For more info on the certificate holder, you can simply click the button.
These and other changes make for a better basic app, but it's the add-ons that make the browser. Firefox 3.0 helps you find new extensions more easily by including in the add-ons window a Get Add-ons button that can display and install searched-for and recommended add-ons.
As of the beta 5 release, Mozilla says that about half of all extensions work with Firefox 3.0, but not yet included in the ranks of the compatible are such must-haves as the Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer and PwdHash. The new browser looks good, but we want to see those extensions in working order before we make the switch.
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