Extensibility, Browser Features, Security
Extensibility For many people, a browser is just a browser, and it doesn't need to do anything but display Web pages. But on the modern Web, browsers are often expected to do much more.Users expect their browser to make it easier to blog or use Twitter, to display up-to-date information and news, to tie into corporate applications, and to be easily updated to use the latest and greatest applications and services.In the area of extensibility, the undisputed king is Firefox. Firefox's large and diverse add-ons community makes it possible to add nearly any kind of functionality to the browser. With the right combination of extensions, Firefox can essentially become an operating system in a browser. IE generally has good support for any major plug-in and has a fairly decent set of add-ons and tool bars that can be used to extend the browser. In IE 8, the new Activities and Web Slices features make it possible to add integrated Web content and information directly in the browser. The other browsers typically support most of the popular plug-ins and offer some add-ons, with Chrome probably coming in last in terms of its ability to be extended by users. For businesses, the ability to extend the functionality of a browser can mean the difference between an enterprise application that works with the browser as opposed to one that is just displayed in the browser. Browser Features In a traditional browser review, I would probably start with strength of features. However, while cool new features are good for business use, they probably aren't at the top of the evaluation list. Still, they can be valuable. New and innovative features can make it easier for users to work with Web applications, handle Web information overload and generally improve their productivity. Each of the browsers I tested includes features such as tabbed browsing and auto-suggest address bars that help when browsing the Web. Many of the features now found in browsers were first introduced in Opera, and the Opera browser is still one of the richest environments for power Web users who want to manage information using a variety of different methods. Chrome, while bare-bones in some ways, has some nice user interface touches, such as having search built into the address bar. Safari 3.x is even more bare-bones, although the forthcoming Safari 4 has some very nice iTunes-style interface touches. IE 8 holds its own in terms of features, especially with the well-implemented Activities, which makes it possible to view information in context within Web pages. Firefox is actually somewhat old-school in terms of interface features, though add-ons can greatly change this. An important feature found in both Firefox and Chrome is the ability to build applications that can run offline. This can be especially important in business-use scenarios. Security When it comes to the issue of security, none of today's browsers excel. Indeed, Web browsers have become one of the most common avenues through which malware and malicious code spread through business systems. Fixing this has been a tough issue for most browser vendors, since locking down a browser also has the effect of making it less effective as a tool for accessing a wide variety of information on the Web. Browser makers have been working to improve their applications' security, and all of the modern browsers have taken essentially the same steps to boost security. These include using services to warn users before they surf to known malware and phishing sites, and supplying improved information about sites' domains and security certificates. A nice additional feature for IE users is Protected Mode, which runs IE in a special process where it is not allowed to access system resources outside of those needed by IE. However, this feature works only for those using IE on Windows Vista. All that said, when it comes to security track records, no browser should be bragging. Every browser has had a least one major security problem in the last year or so. Several organizations have tried to measure the frequency of problems found in browsers, but since all the companies report bugs and security holes differently, these numbers aren't typically comparisons of apples to apples. When it comes to security, companies should not rely on browser vendors. Make sure that your network and system defenses are strong enough to prevent any problems that the browsers allow, and apply fixes quickly when issues do arise.