Avoid Internet Explorer for more reliable Internet surfing

Victor Hugg

Since Windows 95, Microsoft has been including its browser, Internet Explorer, in its line of operating systems. Although Internet Explorer is well past its peak in terms of popularity, the versions of the browser still supported by Microsoft commands 59.65 percent of the Internet browser share as of September 2010.

Yet for its popularity, Internet Explorer — IE for short — does not appear to have any advantages over other modern browsers apart from the fact that it is included in the world’s most popular operating system. In Microsoft’s earlier days, IE developers made the decision to not adhere to agreed upon web standards. Indeed, as a big software company, Microsoft believed that the web should have to conform to what they thought was right.

The World Wide Web Consortium, often shortened to the W3C, has long been an opponent of IE and its painstakingly slow development process concerning web standards. This criticism carries weight among the web developer community, as the W3C is the main organization responsible for the standardization of the languages used to control the content and design of websites: XHTML, CSS and so forth. Even to novice web developers, IE’s frequent failure to render HTML correctly has resulted in hours of both laughter and frustration.

Lulled into complacency, Microsoft was never a leader in the development of new and efficient browser technologies. Tabbed browsing is a prominent example: Tabs did not come to Internet Explorer until version 7 was released in late 2006, when Windows Vista shipped. This was woefully behind other browsers; the first tabbed browser with any significant presence on the web was released in 1997 — it was called Netcaptor.

At the time, the Wall Street Journal raved: “Tabbed browsing is the biggest fundamental improvement in the web browser in years.”

Imagine if a company released a new laptop that utilized technology created in 2001. We would laugh, because in the computer world, something that is nine years old is considered ancient.

In an effort to distinguish itself and to help cement its share in the browser market, unique additions like ActiveX-based controls quickly came to IE; and with it the existence of malicious security exploits.

IE has been the subject of many security reviews, as a rather significant portion of the spyware and viruses that make its way across the Internet are able to do so by way of bugs and other flaws found in the IE security architecture. IT experts roll their eyes at the unsurprising news reports that begin with, “Users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are being urged by experts to switch to a rival until a serious security flaw has been fixed.”

Even national governments are discouraging its citizens from using the browser, as reported in January by the BBC: “France has echoed calls by the German government for web users to find an alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to protect security.”

Despite these reports, Microsoft continues to — in what can only be interpreted as a vain attempt to maintain face — insist that IE8 is the “most secure browser on the market.”

As if its failure to adhere to proper security or international web standards were not sufficient, IE is empirically the slowest browser on the market today. Benchmarks are regularly performed on all of the latest browsers by well-known and reputable websites like Ars Technica, Tom’s Hardware and Lifehacker.

A variety of tests are performed like the startup time, memory usage, page load time, JavaScript execution speed and the rendering efficiency of plug-ins like Flash and Java.

IE performs so comically abysmal in these tests that some websites have started to exclude them from the suite of benchmarks. The only thing IE does well in is something called Silverlight, which is a web application framework created by — surprise, surprise — Microsoft. Some benchmarks even show that, on average, Firefox ties with IE when measuring how well Silverlight is handled; embarrassing, to say the least.

There are myriad of factors you should take into account when deciding which Internet browser to use on your computer. Adherence to web standards is important, because you can be confident that you are looking at a website in the way the developer intended. With the pervasiveness of malicious software like worms and viruses, it’s sensible to avoid a browser known for its lack of security. When it comes to surfing the web, we can all agree: the more speed, the better.

Finally, look at other features, like extensions that can be used to more effectively block advertisements — imagine never having to look at a YouTube or Facebook ad again. Should you find yourself using Internet Explorer, whether it is out of complacency or simply because you didn’t know vastly superior alternatives exist, I recommend downloading and installing a faster and secure alternative; Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome are my personal favorites.