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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 October 2006, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Browsers go head-to-head
Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website

The top two browsing programs of net users got a big update this month as Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) and Mozilla unleashed Firefox 2.0. Here we take a quick spin through some of the features to be seen in the new versions.

Man using computer, AP
Both browsers offer ease of surfing

Microsoft's IE7 program is the beefier of the two browsers with the download package weighing in at 14.8 megabytes (MB). By contrast Firefox is a svelte 5.4MB. However, neither should tax a broadband connection.

Differences start to show up once the software is downloaded. Once it is done installing, IE7 demands a re-start before you can use it. Firefox installs without that need. It's a minor difference and a minor inconvenience for those that choose Internet Explorer.

Both take about the same amount of time to install and get started-up but once they are running more subtle differences start to become apparent.

At first glance Firefox 2.0 looks more familiar as its main page layout hardly differs from earlier versions.

But IE7 does look changed because, for a start, the grey menu bar is hidden. It can be resurrected by hitting the "alt" key but you might be surprised by how much you need to call on it when you can't find it.

Hidden information

With IE7 Microsoft has brought tabs to its browser but both deal with them in slightly different ways.

With IE7 a blank tab is always available but with Firefox the new tab only appears, and takes up some screen space, when you open one up.

Internet Explorer 7 logo, Microsoft

IE7 has a neat feature that lets you see thumbnails of all of the tabs you have open at any one time, letting you leap to the one you need with a click.

However, it seems to take a moment longer than Firefox 2.0 to close tabs when you are done with them.

Opening up quite a few webpages in each browser shows up another quirk. Firefox 2.0 seems to do a better job of using the text that webpages use to describe themselves.

Often in IE7, the only information you get about a webpage you have open but hidden on the bottom taskbar is "http://" - the rest of the title is obscured.

Again, a minor difference and a minor niggle.

Searching a webpage is still more elegant in Firefox 2.0 than IE7.

Calling up the search function in Firefox prompts the appearance of a text box tied to the bottom of the page and typing your search term in that takes you to the first appearance of that word or phrase on the page - provided it is there, of course.

In IE searching calls up a floating box in which you have to type your text and then click or hit a key to find the term or phrase.

Feeding frenzy

One of the very useful inclusions in Firefox 2.0 is a live spell checker that watches over your metaphorical shoulder as you type text into any field on any webpage. It is possible to add a similar function to IE7 but only via an add-on.

Firefox logo, Mozilla Foundation

It will be interesting to see how many people download and install it.

When it comes to RSS - the system that feeds updates of webpages to those interested - Firefox 2.0 does a slightly better job of making it easy to subscribe to new feeds.

With only a click it was possible to add a feed to popular blog-following sites such as Bloglines to IE7 and Firefox

Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 also benefit from thousands of plug-ins, or add-ons - that can be installed to add more functionality to the browser.

These range from RSS readers to Instant Messaging clients, Voice over IP programs, and mini iTunes controls - all accessed from inside the web browser page.

Finally, both IE7 and Firefox 2.0 have introduced systems that warn users when they are about to visit a site that is known to be used by phishing gangs. These pages are made to look like that of a bank to trick people into handing over confidential information.

Firefox handles this by updating a locally held list of known phishing sites every time you use the browser.

Microsoft's IE7 checks in via the web to make sure a site is safe to visit. In the short tests run by the BBC news website, IE7 occasionally took longer to load a page as it carried out a check to see if it was a phishing site.

Despite these minor differences, Firefox 2.0 and IE7 are now broadly comparable - something that could not be said of IE6 and Firefox. But it will be up to users to choose which one best meets their needs.

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