The latest version of IE (Internet Explorer) is here at last, offering a taster of how the internet landscape is going to change as we step into the era of Windows Vista. And as Mozilla eagerly removes the wraps from version 2.0 of IE's fierce rival, Firefox, we couldn't resist seeing how the browsers compare.
While Firefox 1.5 was released only a year ago, IE hasn't received a major overhaul in five years. You can't miss its improved user interface, with tabbed browsing, integrated search and newsfeed support. And Microsoft has added an antiphishing tool and boosted IE7's security.
Firefox 2.0 offers no radical changes – a hint that there wasn't much wrong with 1.5 to begin with. A built-in antiphishing tool makes its debut appearance, but most changes simply refine features that are new only to IE7. It polishes tabbed browsing, newsfeed support and add-on management. There are still sites written specifically for IE that just don't look right, but plug-ins can automatically switch your browser.
IE7's streamlined look resembles Vista. The buttons and address bar are compressed into two rows at the top. In default mode, standard menu options such as File, Edit or View are absent. But the browser now supports tabs and will allow you to save your session, remembering which tabs were open when you closed it down.
But Firefox's tab updates are still a step ahead. You can configure Firefox to always save your last session, while IE7 requires you to click a box every time. And Firefox allows you to reopen closed tabs via the History menu or by right-clicking on an open tab.
RSS (really simple syndication) feeds are now supported in IE. Browse to a page with an associated feed and an icon will light up. Check the headlines from that feed and, if you wish, subscribe. Unfortunately, once you've subscribed, you have no way to preview feed contents without opening it up in IE. This somewhat defeats the convenience of RSS.
Firefox 2.0 makes it easy for you to preview headlines, while the range of subscription options adds depth. You can now add a feed to a Bloglines, Google Reader or My Yahoo page.
IE7 features more security fixes than Firefox, but most of these were essential. Both browsers add antiphishing features, but Firefox's default protection stops at comparing sites against a known blacklist, which is only partially effective. IE analyses sites for hallmarks of phishing. Even if the site isn't blacklisted, it should be able to detect it. And, as with Firefox, it can now clear temporary files, cookies, history files and passwords.
Firefox is a much smaller download – 5MB rather than IE’s 15MB. And it uses fewer resources. With three tabs open, Firefox used 58MB of memory, while IE sucked up 80MB. Both programs upgraded fairly smoothly.
The screenshot, price, system requirements and scores to the right are for Firefox 2.0; to see details of IE7, kindly click here.
There are some nice features in IE7 that might halt the steady flight to Firefox. Quick page zooms and enhanced web page programming support fit well, while Microsoft's antiphishing looks more thorough. However, Firefox 2.0 remains ahead of its rival in many areas. Upgrading from Internet Explorer 6.0 will mean finding your way around a new interface, so IE enthusiasts would find it a good opportunity to convert to Firefox.