Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Web Browsers

Downloads | Extensions | Help | Troubleshooting | Choosing a Browser

Browser Help Resources

Current web browsers include Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Safari

Web browsers are multipurpose Internet applications that include the ability to view websites as well as interact with other software and services.

Many browsers have come and gone over time. Most modern browsers offer improved security and functionality, yet each have their own weaknesses.

Download a Current Browser

There are good reasons for choosing a particular browser. Learn more….

Use only browsers that are a currently maintained.

  • Be sure to always update to the current version of all installed browsers. (Learn about software versions.)
  • Uninstall obsolete browsers or those you don't use except where prevented by the operating system (e.g. Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge or Safari).

Update Your Browser

Not sure what browser you're running? See What browser am I using?

Whichever browser you use, it is important to keep all installed browsers, plugins and extensions updated.

Newer versions tend to be more secure, run faster and display current web content as it was intended. How to beef up your Chrome and Firefox security in 2019.

The Main Contenders

Download Firefox: Fast, Fun, Awesome

Internet Explorer: Do Not Use

Internet Explorer (IE) is more vulnerable than most browsers and has NOT been upgraded to support current web standards and therefore is no longer tested by most web designers.

While IE has been a part of Windows since Windows 95 and continues to be a part of Windows 10, it is no longer a suitable browser.

Is Internet Explorer (IE) a browser? According to Microsoft, no. Today, it's a 'compatibility solution' for enterprise customers to deal with legacy sites that should be updated for modern browsers. — ZDNet

Microsoft Internet Explorer 11 is available only for Windows 7, 8.1 or 10.

  • Because it cannot be uninstalled, it MUST be maintained.
  • IE's behaviour can be controlled by group policy (which is why it is common in corporate environments).
  • After January 12, 2016, only the most recent version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates. — IE Blog
  • Internet Explorer is a component of the Windows operating system and the most current version will continue to follow the specific lifecycle policy for the operating system for which it is installed. — IE Lifecycle FAQ

IE may be your only choice if you wish to play legacy Java-based games because modern browsers no longer support Java.

Alternative Browsers

Watch out for alternative browsers that enhance Internet Explorer and therefore inherit all IE's vulnerabilities.

  • Opera is a slim yet full-featured browser.
    • Opera is now a Chrome-based browser.
    • Windows, Macintosh & Linux are supported.
    • Features include VPN, ad blocker, messengers and battery saver.
    • FAQ.
  • Vivaldi is fast, but also rich in functionality, highly flexible and puts the user first.
  • Firefox Developer Edition is beta software tailored for web developers.
  • Pale Moon is an Open Source web browser optimized for modern processors.
    • Based upon Firefox/Mozilla code, with carefully selected features and optimizations to improve the browser's speed, resource use, stability and user experience. It aims to provide close adherence to official web standards and specifications.
    • Pale Moon addons.
    • Windows and Linux are supported.
  • SeaMonkey is a community effort to deliver a production-quality browser suite.
    • Windows, Mac OS X & Linux are supported.
    • See SeaMonkey Download & Releases for known issues.
    • SeaMonkey Addons for extra features and styles.
    • Whereas the main focus of the Mozilla Foundation is on Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird, this group of dedicated volunteers works to ensure that you can have “everything but the kitchen sink” — and have it stable enough for corporate use.
  • SRWare Iron — Chrome advantages without any privacy and security problems
  • Maxthon5 serves you with a super surfing experience.
    • Provides high-performance cloud backup, synchronization & sharing capabilities, and advanced encryption to ensure user data security.
    • Windows PC, Mac, Android and iOS platforms are supported.
  • Avant is a standalone application designed to expand services provided by Microsoft Internet Explorer.
    • Since it's based on Internet Explorer, Avant Browser is as secure as Internet Explorer.
    • This means that Avant is subject to the same vulnerabilities as IE .
    • Windows 2000/2003, Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 are supported (IE 6, 7, 8).
  • iCab is a browser for the Mac. iCab FAQ.
    • Macintosh OS X supported (older iCab versions support older Macs).
    • iPhone/iPad/iPod touch supported by iCab Mobile.
    • A single user license of "iCab Pro" costs $10 / 10 EUR.
    • Using it for free will pop up a shareware remainder box.
  • Lynx is a text-based web browser (no graphics) that predates the Web.

Browser Archives

These archives are useful primarily to researchers, web designers and others wishing to see how older browsers display current content. Installation of these browsers can corrupt Windows settings (such as earlier versions of Internet Explorer) or not work properly at all. They also lack any security improvements, so using them makes you much more vulnerable to malware and other hazards found on today's websites.

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Extensions

Firefox Addons

Mozilla uses the term “add-ons” to refer to three major forms of modifiers to Firefox:

  • Extensions add new features to Firefox or modify existing ones.
  • Appearance addons include complete themes which change how Firefox looks and background themes which only modify the title bar and tab strip with a background image.
  • Plugins provide support and access to "helper" applications that are already installed on your computer.

Watch for Obsolete or Insecure Addons

Watch for Mozilla “permissions” warnings, particularly on older and potentially unmaintained addons. When clicked, the following text appears:

Some addons ask for permission to perform certain functions. Since you're in control of your Firefox, the choice to grant or deny these requests is yours.

Please note this add-on uses legacy technology, which gives it access to all browser functions and data without requesting your permission.

Installing these addons is risky. Uninstall them if they are currently present.

Apple Enhances Safari Privacy

The newest version of Apple's Safari browser will push back hard against the ad-tracking methods and device fingerprinting techniques that marketers and data brokers use to monitor web users as they browse. Starting with Facebook. — Wired

Apple noted that one of the methods of tracking are the identification of the extensions in Safari and plans to stop allowing such extensions so that all Safari profiles are similar, defeating such tracking techniques. Firefox users may want to consider that when choosing whether to include addons.

Obsolete Extensions

Watch out for obsolete and insecure addons and extensions. Like any software, these can become unsupported or may contain elements that spy on you or are otherwise insecure.

Extensions Complete on Their Own

Unlike plugins, extensions are complete on their own.

I add these basic Firefox extension to enhance the user experience on most installations (some are available for other browsers):

  • HTTPS Everywhere is a Firefox, Chrome, and Opera extension that encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure.
  • Ghostery or Privacy Badger privacy extensions.
  • LastPass to replace the browser's potentially insecure password facility capability and to make it possible to share passwords with their other devices.

Firefox Privacy Extensions

Privacy is difficult to recover once it is lost. Marketing and advertising agencies are doing their best to downplay its importance, but they really don't want you understanding the value of what you're giving away for free. Most have NO privacy policy (i.e. they take anything they can grab and use it without any social conscience).

[T]here is another reason websites track you — It's because you're worth a lot of money. Websites record your activity so they can sell your information to third party advertising platforms, essentially delivering ads that they hope are relevant to you. — ZoneAlarm Blog

In addition, there has been a huge increase in malware in online advertising and ads play havoc with expensive data plans on mobile and some ad networks have been used to spread ransomware.

ZoneAlarm's Adblocking in 2016 provides a balanced look at the issue.

Test Your Privacy

Panopticlick is an online test that analyzes how well your browser and extensions protect you against online tracking techniques, even if you are using privacy-protective software.

These extensions are designed to protect your privacy. Look at the 27 trackers found on the Forbes.com website (shown in a legacy version of Ghostery).

An earlier version of Ghostery's “alert bubble” displays a list of 27 trackers found on forbes.com
On the tools front, there are browser plug-ins such as Disconnect Private Browsing, Privacy Badger and Ghostery. Installing any one of these tends to administer a salutary shock, because they instantly reveal (and enable you to block) the startling number of snoopers who are covertly tracking your online activity. — The Guardian
  • Ghostery lets you see who is tracking you online (including information on their privacy policies). It stops beacons, ads, analytics services, page widgets and other third-party page elements from secretly tracking your every move.
    • Ghostery FAQs.
    • Ghostery can also delete Flash and Silverlight cookies on exit.
    • More recent versions of Ghostery use a simpler alert bubble than previous versions (shown on the right).
  • Privacy Badger blocks spying ads and invisible trackers by enforcing the Do Not Track header (you have to have “Do Not Track” enabled in your browser) and may be a better alternative if you're uncomfortable with Ghostery.
  • Mozilla's Do Not Track FAQ.

Blur

Blur replaced DoNotTrackMe. I no longer recommend it. ZoneAlarm installs Blur by default which may be required to meet the ZoneAlarm Extreme virus-free guarantee.

HTTPS:// Everywhere

HTTPS:// Everywhere is a Firefox, Chrome, and Opera extension that encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure. Learn more about HTTPS…

Password Addons

Passwords are unavoidable but present a risk to your privacy and security if not properly managed.

However, your browser's built-in password manager is not secure!

Creating Passwords

I use LastPass's password generator (or Ultra High Security Password Generator) to avoid repetition and LastPass to remember them.

LastPass Recommended

I liked LastPass because your sensitive data is encrypted locally before upload so even LastPass cannot get access to it. There are several options:

  • LastPass, a free online password generator and manager, can be used on all your devices, for free! LastPass Premium is only US$12 per year and provides even more.
  • A single installation on Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices can interact with all your installed browsers.
  • Firefox LastPass Password Manager is a free secure online password manager which uses your LastPass account.

Learn more about LastPass.

Addons for Web Developers

Web developers will want to check out my listing of useful Firefox extensions for web developers.

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Browser Help Resources

These resources will help you if something goes wrong during the install or operation of your web browser.

Firefox Help

Disable .NET Framework Assistant in Firefox

Microsoft surreptitiously installed the .NET Framework Assistant add-in to earlier versions of Mozilla Firefox using Windows Update.

Websites can take advantage of this addin to quietly install software without the user's knowledge, making your computer more vulnerable to malware.

If .NET Framework Assistant is present and the Uninstall button is grayed out or unavailable, follow these instructions to remove it.

Google Chrome Help

Google Chrome is now the world's dominant browser. Many other formerly-independent browsers including Microsoft Edge and Opera have been rebuilt using Chromium.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge is the default browser for Windows 10 but the new Chromium-based Edge is also available for Windows 7 and newer, macOS, iOS and Android.

Safari

Safari is the default browser on macOS and iOS.

The Windows version is no longer developed and is unsafe to use.

Opera

Return to Troubleshooting Intro

Internet Explorer

If you're using Internet Explorer (IE), I strongly recommend you choose another browser. It is obsolete and no longer safe to use.

Windows 10 includes IE along with Microsoft Edge, however it was not intended to be used as your primary browser:

"You see, Internet Explorer is a compatibility solution," wrote [Microsoft security chief] Jackson in the blog. "We're not supporting new web standards for it and, while many sites work fine, developers by and large just aren't testing for Internet Explorer these days. They're testing on modern browsers. — ZDNet

Internet Explorer Particularly Vulnerable

Internet Explorer vulnerabilities allow “remote code executions” which can allow an external user to take control of your computer, especially because of the tight integration with Windows.

ANY Internet Explorer vulnerability is a Windows vulnerability.

Internet Explorer has been long known to be vulnerable to the covert downloading of software from malicious Web sites…Merely visiting the corrupted site is all it takes. — BusinessWeek

No other browser is as tightly integrated into Windows, although some (like Avant) simply enhance Internet Explorer rather than replace it.

Always Update IE

Always update to the latest version of Internet Explorer available for your system (even if you're using another browser) because it provides the best security and features.

I strongly recommend moving to Firefox or another modern browser.

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Troubleshooting

If you're having trouble viewing content properly or if your browser stops working, the resources in this section can help you to recover.

If you can't see any content, check to see if the issue is with a specific website or if your connection to the Internet is broken.

Can't See New Content?

Sometimes you'll have problems viewing what you expect on a webpage. Either updated content isn't showing or something is displaying incorrectly.

This is usually because the browser is displaying cached (locally-stored) content rather than refreshing the content from the website. Browsers use caches to avoid having to repeatedly download similar content from the Web such as style sheets, graphics, etc.

If reloading the page doesn't work try clearing the cache or a hard reset (forced refresh).

Disable Annoying Video Autoplay

You land on a site and all of a sudden a video is playing. You're annoyed for many reasons including

  • clicking on the pause button distracts you from the reason you went to the site in the first place;
  • these unwanted videos waste your bandwidth (especially when using expensive cellular data); and
  • videos can be disruptive late at night or in your work environment if your sound isn't turned down or off.

You can stop Flash from running simply by disabling it (there are built-in settings in most browsers), but HTML5-based video is newer and unaffected by Flash settings. Recent versions of Firefox either disable autoplay or mute the sound.

  • Older versions of Firefox contain an “off” switch in the about:config settings (search for media.autoplay and toggle the setting to false). Be careful when changing other settings.
  • There is an extension available for Opera (Disable HTML5 Autoplay).
  • Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer and Safari currently don't have any way to disable autoplay.

The following sites have more details on how to work with these settings:

 

Choosing a Browser

Each browser has strengths and weaknesses. These can change.

Both 32- and 64-bit versions are available for most current browsers (64-bit versions are generally faster and more secure).

To be “secure,” a modern browser must meet certain requirements.

Recommendations

I strongly recommended using Firefox as your primary browser.

It is the only major independent browser that protects and respects your private information.

The Firefox Browser has built in tracking protection. That makes it harder for politicians, advertisers, and disinformation disseminators to find you. More privacy means more democracy. — IRL: Democracy and the Internet

You don't have to sacrifice speed for that security.

Google's Monopoly

Most people running Chrome originally did so because it was surreptitiously installed with third-party software.

Now it is frequently installed on new computers.

Google's monopoly now threatens the future of the open Web and the digital economy. See “Why we fear Google.”

Google controls about 62% of mobile browsers, 69% of desktop browsers, and the operating systems on 71% of mobile devices in the world. 92% of internet searches go through Google and 73% of American adults use YouTube.

 

Google runs code on approximately 85% of sites on the Web and inside as many as 94% of apps in the Play store. It collects data about users' every click, tap, query, and movement from all of those sources and more. — EFF
[I]f one company is 90% of the searches in our country, they kind of represent truth to our country. — IRL
Chrome, Edge and Brave are all built on Google code, which means giving Google even more control of the internet. — Mozilla
Break up with Google. Use a web browser you have more control over, and which has more plug-ins that you can use for privacy, such as Firefox. — Windows Secrets

The European Commission alleges that Google placed its own comparison shopping services in more favourable position than alternatives.

Apple Enhances Safari Privacy

Apple just announced significant changes to fight ad-tracking and digital fingerprinting at WWDC 2018.

The newest version of Apple's Safari browser will push back hard against the ad-tracking methods and device fingerprinting techniques that marketers and data brokers use to monitor web users as they browse. Starting with Facebook. — Wired

Beta Versions

32- or 64-bit?

Most browsers are now available in both 32- and 64-bit versions. 64-bit browsers are faster but you can only run them on 64-bit systems.

You can install 32-bit browsers on 64-bit systems, but not the reverse.

Better support for 32-bit plugins has kept many folks on 32-bit browsers but that is changing because plugins are being replaced with HTML5-based technologies, making plugin support irrelevant.

Choose Your Startup Page

Browsers come with a default startup page launched when your browser starts. Startup options can be changed in the browser's settings.

Hundreds of Portals

There are hundreds of startup pages. Most ISPs, news services, search portals and domain resellers provide a portal.

Quicker is Better

For quicker launch times I recommend choosing a simpler startup page that doesn't load all the news, weather and gossip every time you start your browser.

Watch for Unexpected Changes

Be wary of plugins, software downloads, etc. that automatically change your default startup page.

Avoiding Problems

Modern browsers usually provide some method for adding extra functions or customizations so you can make them your own. However, avoid problems by being selective.

Plugins, Extensions and Addons

Addons do everything from customizing the look of your browser to providing specialized tools:

  • Plugins are legacy addons that typically add access to external "helper" applications.
  • Extensions add features or simply customize what is there.

Whenever you add these features into your browser, there is the potential for problems ranging from the inability to start your browser to slowing or freezing your browser or computer.

If your computer or browser is running slow, check to see if disabling or removing addons or extensions helps improve things.

  • Modern browsers now prevent most plugins from activating.
  • Plugins or extensions can impact your privacy by reporting your surfing habits to the developer or a third-party.
  • Check to see if extensions have been deprecated or banned, particularly if you're having difficulties.

Be Wary When Downloading

Carefully review the options when downloading and installing software from the Web.

Many users found that they were unexpectedly running Google Chrome as their primary browser after installing other software.

Security Concerns

Web browsers have known security issues that vary from browser to browser (sometimes depending upon the operating system).

Internet Explorer is particularly vulnerable because it is so tightly integrated into Windows.

Moving to the Cloud

Chrome runs much of its functionality in the cloud rather than on your computer (called Software as a Service).

This can have serious privacy and security implications since you have no control over what is being done with your data once it leaves your computer.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.


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RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/browser.html
Updated: May 16, 2020