Browser Diversity

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on the net

There are still pages out there on the Web that will only display in certain browsers or will display different information depending upon the browser used.

Consider the Web browser-that essential software for surfing, searching, and browsing on the Web. The "browser wars" have long been considered over, regardless of the final outcome of the U.S. court cases against Microsoft or speculation that the European Union will succeed in breaking up the company even if the U.S. doesn't. With Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) becoming the dominant Web browser for the majority of the world, what more needs to be said about the browsers? For the information professional, there are still a number of reasons to be aware of-and use-a variety of browsers. There are still pages out there on the Web that will only display in certain browsers or will display different information depending upon the browser used. And there are still plenty of versions and flavors of browsers, some with a variety of security issues.

CENTRALITY OF THE BROWSER

Certainly, the Web browser is now a crucial, if not the crucial, piece of software in the information professional's arsenal. Unlike the early days of the Web, we no longer need to upgrade the latest browser every few months. Indeed, many people are quite happy using the same browser they used last year or the year before.

After all, it is not the browser that is so important but the information to which it provides access. As the primary means of traveling to and displaying Web pages, the browser is important enough. But it also provides access to a variety of other file types as well. Audio, video, PDF, Flash, and many other file types are accessible via the browser. The plug-ins for these commonly used file types are usually included in most browsers' install packages.

Has it been awhile since your last browser update? Even if you are generally satisfied with your browser, consider how long it has been since you updated it. Look under the Help menu at the About section to check which version you have. If it is not IE 5.5 or Netscape 4.77, it could use an update. Security bugs in browsers are discovered on a regular basis, and both Microsoft and Netscape post frequent updates and fixes. Even with version 6 available from both, updates continue to be made available for some of the older browsers as well. If security is an issue, be sure to have the most updated version.

INTERNET EXPLORER

Bundled with almost every new computer, as well as with many other offers, Microsoft's Internet Explorer generally is easily available. For those still using older computers or a non-Windows operating system, it is also available online. Now the dominant Web browser, IE still comes in many shapes and sizes. The current version is 5.5, but by the time you read this, version 6 may actually be available. In mid-April, it had just been made available in a preview release, but only for Win98, WinME, and WinNT. To make sure that you have the latest version, check on the Tools menu for the so-called "Windows Update." Run this to be sure that you have the latest fixes and security patches. Even after version 6 is fully released, there will probably be plenty of 5.5 users for some time, especially if it is not available for all operating systems. And more updates and security patches are likely to continue to be made available for version 5 even after version 6 is released.

Now that IE has the bulk of the browser market share, more sites are built and optimized for IE users. While most major sites make sure that both Netscape and IE users can view their content, some less-trafficked sites intentionally design their site for only one or another. Even more common are the sites that come from harried Web site builders that only take the time to make sure it works under IE.

NETSCAPE

The once-mighty Netscape is now owned by AOL, and has certainly been stumbling trying to come out with an updated version of the Netscape browser. …