- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It’s spring, and a young person’s thoughts turn to … Web browsers.

Well, probably not so much, given what you can see on the Mall or any number of nightclubs, but for those whose romance may be online — and for the rest of us — this new season seems to signal the arrival of new and potentially new (i.e., Beta version) tools with which we can surf the Internet.

Microsoft Corp. bowed Internet Explorer 9 the other day. It’s Windows-only, and the firm’s goal is to move website developers (and, by extension, site visitors) from older versions to the new one. The sun is setting on Internet Explorer 6, for example, which has an approximately 35 percent share of the browser market in China.

IE9 is nicer to look at than some recent incarnations of IE have been. And pages seemed to load very quickly, using an Acer Aspire Z5700-U3112, reviewed here two months ago (https://bit.ly/dEiqXj). That computer is running Windows 7 Home Premium, one of the operating systems of choice for the browser. Speed is good.

Navigation? Well, that’s another question. It may be the newness of IE9, but good luck finding a drop-down menu to open a new browser window. The command is CTRL-N. Perhaps the rest of the world knows this and I don’t, but on the off chance that someone else may have a problem, maybe Microsoft could include some blessed menus, ya think?

Overall, I’d give IE9 three stars out of a possible five. It’s good, but there are some issues to be addressed — media reports note that some users are encountering mysterious IE9 crashes — and there’s competition out there.

One of the competitors is Opera Software ASA, the Norwegian firm whose co-founder, Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, dropped by for a chat on Friday. Mr. von Tetzchner is a happy man: Opera’s active user base has gone from 50 million worldwide in 2009 to 170 million at the end of January. Most of that is in the mobile space, especially on Android and other smartphones.

The firm this week is launching new versions of its browsers for mobile devices such as those Android phones and tablet computers. (Opera’s mobile browsers are available through Apple Inc.’s App Store but first must be approved by Apple. For other platforms, Opera controls the rollout schedule.) The products also are available for installation on some Sony, Phillips and Toshiba televisions and Blu-ray players, making connected TVs more Internet-friendly.

The firm also launched version 11 of its Opera desktop Web browser for Windows, Mac and Linux. Opera 11 is a versatile, fast and friendly browser. I like it for most everything, even if it doesn’t like The Washington Times’ e-edition, or maybe the e-edition doesn’t like it. Sigh.

For general Web browsing, however, Opera 11 is a superb program. But wait, there’s still more.

Improvements to Google’s Chrome (Mac, Windows, Linux) continue to mount. There’s instant translation of foreign-language Web pages, if you want, in the browser, something that requires an add-on in Apple’s Safari (Mac, Windows) and Mozilla.org’s Firefox. Chrome also seems to be faster these days, but maybe it’s just me noticing.

Both Chrome and Safari have pages where applicationlike extras can be installed, whether to read the New York Times or, in Safari’s case, expand the display of YouTube videos automatically or translate Web pages, among many, many others. This is akin to similar features in Firefox, whose new release is also aborning.

Firefox remains one of the most customizable and “extension-friendly” browsers on the planet. Firefox 4 may or may not support all the extensions out there (a final Beta version disabled four of my five extensions) but that should resolve itself quickly as developers update their wares.

It’s a good time to surf the Internet, however, because a host of browsing choices await, all free.

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