Surf the Web? Get a Better Surfboard

Recently, we were trying to help a client debug a problem with some online order forms (yes, my life is that exciting.) We couldn’t duplicate the problem at all on our machines. Then he told us he was using Internet Explorer 8.

Well, there’s your problem.

Let me explain. When a typical modern web page is drawn on your computer, it’s most likely going to use a few bits of something called JavaScript. This is a fairly powerful programming language that web developers use to enhance their pages. The “Like” button on Facebook? JavaScript. A picture gallery? JavaScript. A million little web behaviors you never notice? Also JavaScript.

So what’s with the chart? It shows the relative speeds of different browsers running a common JavaScript speed benchmark called SunSpider. Lower numbers are better. Note the gargantuan size of the IE 8 bar! The real-world consequence of this chart is that a typical modern web page may very well load 10 times slower if you’re using IE 8 as opposed to, say, Google Chrome or Apple’s Safari.

And the problems with IE 8 don’t stop with JavaScript. There’s another web technology called HTML5. Basically, it’s an improved, faster way for web developers to add lots of cool new features to your browsing experience. Unfortunately, since IE 8 is from the last decade, it doesn’t support HTML5 at all. Do you care? If you don’t now, you will soon. If you’re using IE 8, more and more websites will become slower and slower.

So what’s to be done? According to most web stats, about a third of you are reading this on IE 8 right now. Some are using Firefox, which is a perfectly cromulent browser, and if you’re on a Mac, you’re probably using Safari, which is the best browser for the Mac, so you’re fine.

If you’re on IE 8, why not just upgrade to IE 9? Well, IE 9 won’t run on Windows XP, and it has its own set of problems (and note in the chart that it’s still not nearly as fast as the other browsers.)

If you’re going to switch to a modern browser on the PC, your best choice right now is Google Chrome. It’s extremely fast, standards-compliant, and safer than Internet Explorer.

Why not switch to Chrome if you’re on a Mac? Well, there are versions of Chrome and Firefox on the Mac, but they’re second rate. Those development teams reserve their best work for the PC. That’s okay, though. Safari is super-fast and standards compliant (in fact, under the hood, it uses the same engine as Chrome.) Your best bet on a Mac is Safari.

Okay, so you want to try out Chrome, but you’ve got a bunch of saved passwords and bookmarks in IE. Don’t worry, there’s an easy way to import them to Chrome.

First, to install Chrome, go to http://www.google.com/chrome. Follow the usual routine of downloading and installing a new program.

Once it’s up and running, you can import all your saved stuff from IE by following the simple instructions on this Google page.

And that’s pretty much it. Chrome will ask you if you want to make it your default browser. If you’re comfortable with it, say “yes.” Don’t worry, IE will always be on your hard drive should you need it for some reason (you won’t.)

Oh, one other note about Chrome and privacy (since everyone talks about Google and privacy.) If you’re paranoid, you can go into Chrome’s settings and turn on a whole bunch of privacy features. But I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s too late. If you’ve been on the internet for more than a week in your life, your name, email address, probably your city, gender, and a couple of pictures are already out there at a minimum.

But the most nefarious use that your info is likely to be used for is internet ads. Unlike in IE, you can do something about that with Chrome (or Firefox, or Safari.) If you’re using Chrome, get the AdBlock¬†extension. This will eliminate the vast majority of ads on the internet. Yes, you’ll be able to read an article while not being distracted by 50 dancing states wanting you to buy car insurance.

If you’re on the Mac, you can add it to Safari by going up to the Safari menu and choosing “Safari Extensions.” AdBlock is the most popular extension on the list.

So, are you on Chrome for the PC or on Safari for the Mac? Then I leave you with this fun little demo of what you can now do.

*The chart is from a nice article that compares modern web browsers. If you’re a techie, it’s worth a look.

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