Looking Beyond Netscape and Internet Explorer

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When people talk about Internet Browsers, you immediately assume that they are referring to either Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. However, there are many other “alternative” browsers that deserve a second glance. In this article I am going to review those that I think are worthwhile installing as an alternative to the two big players. If you don’t do a lot of Web surfing and are less than enthusiastic about adding another 12 MB to your hard drive for a browser suite with features you’ll probably never use, you may want to consider an alternative browser. These browsers can also be very useful for developers, as they provide a testing bed for websites to ensure that as many of your potential visitors as possible have access to your site.

Opera This has to be the most popular alternative browser and is compatible with Windows-based systems. Opera’s claim to fame is that it is fast and tiny, only taking up 1.7 MB disk space. In addition, it has mail and Usenet features, supports JavaScript and enables you to bookmark your favourite sites. Opera is built from scratch and not based upon any existing browser’s code, therefore, it is designed to specifics and updated according to user feedback. It’s only drawback is that it does not have any native java support, which some people may find essential. However, it is a small price to pay for its speed, its small memory usage and the fact that it fits on a floppy disk.

Mosaic Mosaic’s claim to fame was that it was the first graphical browser. Developed by the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications it is of particular interest to the developers amongst us. If you are interested in playing around with the Mosaic Browser you can download the source code and have a go yourself.

Amaya Not only is Amaya a browser, but it is also a powerful authoring tool. It is used by the W3C to demonstrate and test many of the new developments in Web protocols and data formats. It is versatile and extensible and is available on both Unix and Windows ’95/NT platforms. Using Amaya you can create Web pages and upload them onto a server. Authors can create a document from scratch, they can browse the web and find the information they need, copy and paste it to their pages, and create links to other Web sites. All this is done in a straightforward and simple manner, and actions are performed in a single consistent environment. Editing and browsing functions are integrated seamlessly in a single tool. It is probably not the perfect browser for the average surfer, but it is an essential tool for developers because it sticks rigidly to HTML standards, therefore making it a very good test browser.

Cello The beauty about this browser is that it runs under Microsoft Windows on any IBM PC with a 386SX chip or better. This means that if you have a very old system, maybe a laptop that you use when you are occasionally on the go, then this is the one for you. Cello is well-integrated with other software tools which you can use to prepare HTML documents, serve WWW information, view graphics from the Net, listen to digital sound files, and many other things

Arachne Arachne WWW browser is a full screen graphical World Wide Web browser, which is currently available for DOS compatible operating systems and for Linux/SVGAlib platform. Arachne supports subset of HTML/4.0, GIF, JPEG and PNG images, popular internet protocols http, ftp, smtp and pop3, and more. Not everyone is using Microsoft Windows as their Operating System, and browsers like these give those users the chance to surf the Web. Like a lot of the alternative browsers, Arachne needs only eight Meg of RAM and should install on a 386 or higher. The download is only 529k which means you can easily install from a single floppy disk.

HotJava As the name implies, this browser is written completely in Java, which means that it will run on any platform that supports it. Even though Java has a reputation for being slow, this problem doesn’t represent itself in this browser. It’s just as fast as the other browsers mentioned, and does not use up alo of computing power. It’s biggest drawback is that you have to wait for the entire page to download before you can view anything, and it might just be that alone that is the deciding factor when it comes to choosing whether you want to use this Java browser or not.

Lynx Lynx is one of the smallest browsers around. It takes seconds to download a page as it is a text only browser so it does not support images (a good way to test if your ALT tags are that relevant after all!). Lynx has no mouse support so you have to use your cursor keys, and it does not support some features of HTML such as tables and frames. Lynx is available on most platforms and is a perfect browser for users of speech. However, the text only approach might discourage some people, but if you are on a low specification computer and need something that’s lightning fast and small on the processing power, then this might be your ideal alternative browser.

Alternative browsers are not a thing of the past, in fact many potential visitors to your site could be using them. However, unless you ensure that your website is viewable by an alternative browser, there is no guarantee that you are making yourself available to the widest audience possible. It is essential that a compromise be found between applying the features that the newer more commonly used browsers provide, together with providing support to alternative browser users.

Nicky DaninoNicky Danino
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Nicky is a Community administrator for the SitePoint Forums. She's an advocate of accessibility and her research has been presented at international conferences. Nicky loves to travel, especially to Gibraltar, and is friends with anyone who offers her ice-cream or chocolate.

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