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Who says the Internet has to be slow? Who says browsers have to have no features? Who says innovation is dead?

Around 90% of all people using the web use Internet Explorer, from Microsoft. Those who were online during the browser wars of the 90s will remember well the mistakes Netscape made to allow their dominance of the browser market to slip and IE to take over. For a long time, many people thought IE would remain the dominant browser, and, due to Microsoft's ignorance of standards and bundling practices, they were almost right.

Almost.

Somewhere, in the snowy mountains of Norway, is a small software outfit who have created "The Fastest Browser on Earth", or so they claim. [url=http://www.opera.com/]The Opera browser[/url] is just one alternative to Internet Explorer, and is pretty damn quick. It has an effective built-in popup-killer (one that allows popups you open yourself, but no others, so very rarely do you even remember it is there), mouse gestures (something you will not be able to live without once using - a program called [url=http://www.tcbmi.com/strokeit/]StrokeIt[/url] offers these in every application), and tabbed browsing. It also offers better security, more customisation, and all in one speedy, small, download.

"But I heard Opera can't render pages properly." is something you may hear from the occasional IE user. The latest version of Opera, re-built from the ground up, with a new rendering engine, has better DOM support and supports all the W3C standards. It even allows you to use alpha-channel transparency in PNGs properly. You will occasionally find a site will not work in Opera, usually because the designer responsible for the site has used a badly written piece of javascript to detect different browsers. Fortunately, you can ask Opera to identify itself as Internet Explorer (press F12 for quick preferences) to get around this kind of problem, should it ever arise.

There is also no support for ActiveX, which many, including myself, believe is a good thing. ActiveX has done little other than provide security problems since its inception. No great loss. Opera supports Flash, QuickTime, RealPlayer - all the plugins you would expect a modern browser to support.

All things considered, Opera changes your browsing experience (and not just for Windows users - it also comes in Linux and Mac flavours). Changing back to IE, even for site testing purposes, still feels like taking a go-kart for a spin round the garden after spending a few hours guiding a Ferrarri round Silverstone. The full version costs £24, or you can use an ad-supported version for free if you prefer.

If the idea of an ad-supported browser doesn't appeal, you could always try [url=http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/]Mozilla Firefox[/url]. Firefox is a free browser, based upon the Gecko engine that powers the Mozilla range of browsers, but unlike the normal Mozilla browser this is a lightweight, stripped down piece of kit, designed just for the browsing. There's no integrated mail client, but what there is is a fast, slick, browser, built to make life quick and easy.

It comes with a host of the kind of built in features you would expect from any current-generation browser - tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, decent privacy and security, customisation and a popup killer. The interesting thing about Firefox though, and one of the reasons I find myself using it almost as much as, if not more than, Opera, is that you can download a huge range of plugins and extras for the browser at no charge. Personally, I find Chris Pederick's [url=http://chrispederick.myacen.com/work/firefox/webdeveloper/]Web Developer Toolbar[/url] invaluable. [url=http://editcss.mozdev.org/]EditCSS[/url] is also spectacular, allowing you to change style sheets on the fly, seeing the effects of changes as you make them. That's just me though - there are literally hundreds of customisation projects going on at [url=http://www.mozdev.org/]Mozdev.org[/url], so whatever your needs you will almost certainly find something there that fills the gap.

Bye Bye, IE

It's time we took control of our own browsing. Apathy is no way forward - and just because you are used to IE doesn't mean you should stick with it forever. There was a time when you weren't used to IE, remember. Try something new today - you never know, you might never go back to IE. If you're lucky.


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