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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
War of the web browsers
Chris Long
By Chris Long
Reporter, BBC Click Online

Firefox, Safari and Opera are just some of the many web browsers jostling for user attention alongside Internet Explorer. But are any of them going to see off Microsoft? Chris Long eyes up the contenders.

Zeros and ones
Without browsers, the web would just be zeros and ones
Without a browser, the web would just be a dizzying confusion of ones and zeros spilling out of our computer screens.

Instead it is a riot of colour, sound and video. But let us not forget that the web has only been in colour for the last 12 years.

Before then it was simply the internet and was strictly text only, until 1991 when a Brit called Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.

The beauty of the web is the pictures, which gave us the possibility of graphics on the internet.

But while the WWW gave us the possibility of graphics it still needed one piece of technology before it all fell into place: the browser.

After all, it is all very well and good to send pictures and nicely laid out words around the web, but you still need a piece of software to show them.

As anyone who has looked at a web page knows, it is not just pictures. It is words, buttons, graphics, animations and anything else you can think of - and this is all looked after by the browser.

The ones and zeros are decoded by a render engine, and despite the browsers looking all but carbon copies of each other (can you really tell the difference between Opera and Firefox?) there are different render engines for different browsers.

For example, Firefox is driven by Mozilla, while Deepnet has the Internet Explorer engine.

Security issues

Here's the rub: those ones and zeros banging around out there not only make pretty pictures, they make pretty ugly malware.

Of all the browsers, Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) has been the victim of just about all the attacks, and the opposition thinks it knows why.

Christen Krogh, vice president of engineering at Opera, believes: "The way IE is integrated with the rest of the operating system has caused them some problems. Furthermore, it seems like they've been not as keen on fixing security issues as fast as some other browser renderers."

Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1991
That is Opera's take, although Deepnet, whose browser revolves around the Internet Explorer engine, has a different point of view, as CEO Yurong Lin explains.

"There was hype that Firefox's render engine was more secure than IE's render engine, but that was simply hype.

"Recently Symantec, the anti-virus security company, released a security report and in that report they pointed out that according to their test IE's render engine is much more secure than the Firefox render engine.

"So we chose IE's render engine for two simple reasons. One: it is more compatible with most websites than Firefox; and secondly, we always believed IE's engine was secure. Although it has security problems, it was secure.

"And what we did was base our render engine on IE's and add enhanced security on top of it to make our product much more secure.

"In fact we believe that our application is one of the most secure web browsers in the market."

'Next big thing'

Internet Explorer 7 is not due out for a while yet, but it is on its way, and depending on whose figures you use, the various versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer has between 85% and 95% of the market, while the other browsers fight among themselves for rest.

Tabbed browsing
Tabbed browsing is one new feature that browsers are embracing
Therefore features have become very important in the game.

Tabbed browsing, where you can see a tabs showing all your open windows, and zoomable images, are all interesting.

But perhaps the most important feature is RSS.

Christen Krogh explains: "RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It's a format for marking up small bits and pieces of information which is pulled to your client at regular intervals.

"So in a sense you subscribe to RSS Feeds and you get them directly into your application."

Most browsers - including the new Internet Explorer but excluding the current Internet Explorer - support RSS, and it is definitely the "next big thing".

Another big thing will be browsers on your mobile phone. Opera, already a player in the mobile-phone browser market, has just launched Opera Mini, a browser that will run on a potential 700 million Java-enabled mobile phones, and if that doesn't shake up the market nothing will.

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.

Watch Chris's report

Microsoft makes web feeds easier
24 Jun 05 |  Technology


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