- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

The recent arrival of updated versions of two popular Web browsers, Mozilla.org’s Firefox 3.5 and Apple Inc.’s Safari 4.0, is perhaps more noteworthy than might first be imagined.

In the course of trying to meet the deadline for this column, I’ve bounced between Firefox 3.5, which comes in Windows, Mac and Linux flavors, and Safari 4.0.1, for Mac and Windows. Both are solid, versatile and fast browsers.

Speed thrills on the Internet, as any aficionado will attest. I don’t have a stopwatch, but Firefox seems as fast as Safari, if not slightly faster, in some page-loading situations. While some of that depends on one’s Internet connection, there are also other factors that make browsing fast or slow. However they’ve engineered it, the Safari and Firefox teams have created browsers that work with the Net and not against it.

Why do I believe browsers continue to be important? Because in the not-too-distant-future, that’s where we’re likely going to do more and more of our work. With all due respect to my friends at Microsoft, FileMaker and other applications developers, the move toward thin-and-ultralight computers will mean less disc space and memory for software and more demand for “cloud” computing applications that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, along with my securely held data.

Thus, the kind of Web browser you have becomes important: The choice you make might determine which online applications you can work with easily. I’m writing these words using Adobe’s online word processor, Buzzword, via the Firefox browser. But it could just as easily be Safari or, on Windows, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8.

Any of these browsers would take up less space on a computer than an applications suite, of course, and you can then move data from the “cloud” to others via e-mail or a file-sharing link. Work problem solved.

Which of the two new browsers is right for you? Windows and Mac users have the best choices since, as mentioned, Safari and Firefox are published for both platforms. Linux devotees are kind of stuck with Firefox, which isn’t at all bad.

In Safari’s favor is utterly flawless integration on the Mac side with the operation system no surprise there and with other Mac applications such as Mail.app. But Windows-based Safari users won’t suffer much, either: The program plays well in the Windows sandbox.

Firefox’s strengths are not only its cross-platform-ness, but also the huge quantity of add-ins, add-ons, extensions and what-have-you that developers have come up with. There are plug-ins to let you read PDF files “inline” while browsing, to magnify Web photographs, and do all sorts of things, including block Web page ads if you desire.

There are also idiosyncratic features in each browser that you’ll either like or yawn at. Firefox this time adds a “new tab” button just above the current, open, browser screen. It’s a great way to add viewable space without opening tons of separate windows. In Safari, I really like the “Top Sites” view, which showcases a range of your most-viewed Web pages and lets you know which of these have added or changed content since you last visited. I still think it’s super-cool.

Not that all this is without pitfalls: A wrong click on an RSS feed in Firefox will obliterate your current screen in favor of the RSS page; do it in Safari and the default option will, on Macs, launch the e-mail program and ask you to add the RSS items there.

But these are quibbles. Both Safari (www.apple.com/safari) and Firefox (www.getfirefox.org) are free products, and each seems guaranteed to free up time and worries for you as you surf the Web.

E-mail Mark Kellner at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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