by Andrew Robinson

Of all the things we use our high-powered and very expensive computers for, email and web browsing top the list of activities, hands down. Web browsing espe­cially, and this week we’re looking at some of the alter­natives available.

Most people really don’t think about their web browsing software much — all our computers come with browsers already installed, and we usually just double click them and get on with surfing, not really stopping to think whether they are the best tool for the job. If you’re on a Macintosh, this probably means Safari from Apple and on a Windows PC, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

But these aren’t our only choices! On Windows, Opera, Netscape [remember them?] and AOL’s own browser are popular options, but one in particular, called FireFox, offers serious advantages to Windows users. While FireFox is fairly new, it has better secu­rity than IE, it has tabbed browsing — a feature that is much handier than it sounds — and FireFox allows for subscribing to RSS feeds, a powerful way to get infor­mation in an efficient and elegant manner. It also has a much better way of blocking those annoying pop-up ads than IE and is, maybe best of all, free to download and easy to install. To check out this great software, point whatever browser you’re using to FireFox is also available for Macintosh and Linux.

While Apple’s bundled Safari is a great web brows­er, another option for Mac users is OmniWeb, from OmniWeb isn’t free like FireFox, but for about Y3,500 it has a wealth of features that will make you wonder how you surfed without them. Winner of a “Most Innovative Browser” award in 2004, OmniWeb is in its 5th version and has been around for years longer than either FireFox or Safari. It has most of the features of FireFox but also has built-in spell checking, a way to mark web-pages that you visit so you can jump back to them later, and ‘Workspaces,’ a way to save groups of web sites that are related to each other, like ‘News sites’ or ‘Stock Tracking,’ allow­ing you to immediately call up a group of pre-configured windows and sites that you often use.

So, even if you’re not worried about security on your Windows PC [and you should be] or you’re happy with Safari on your Macintosh, FireFox and OmniWeb are two very interesting and full-featured alternatives to what you’ve been using in the past.