Business-like, isn't he?



Columbia Journal

    Dump Internet Explorer to make browsing the Web safe and fun again

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Columbia Journal September 2004

    There was an Internet before there was a World Wide Web; Arpanet, the predecessor to the Internet started up way back in the 1970s, initially funded by the US Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, get it?) The idea was a web of interconnections so communications could survive a nuclear attack.

    Despite this military heritage, the early Internet was mostly used by university researchers; they evolved a series of standard tools which are still used today, including email, ftp for transferring files, and usenet groups for discussions by topics. Late in the 1980s, physicist Tim Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web, link pages of information together.

    The first web browsers were plain-text programs like the still-available Lynx. But linking text alone didn’t create much of a buzz, until a group at the University of Illinois developed a browser, Mosaic that let users view text, graphics, and other multimedia content and ran on a range of popular computer platforms. Colour, pictures, music, and video content all helped build the Internet into a mass medium.

    (Also playing a role in creating this mass medium was unbridled commercialization. For most of its existence, the Internet was run by the US National Science Council, which forbade commercial activity. In 1995, all such limits were dropped, making the Internet open for business).

    And just as Mosaic followed Lynx, Netscape followed Mosaic, as the first widely used commercially produced web browser. And as people started thinking how content and even applications could be run on any computer with Internet access and a browser, Microsoft started to worry; if the web was the same on a PC or a Unix system or a Mac, maybe the company’s very profitable Windows franchise wouldn’t matter anymore.

    So Microsoft ‘discovered’ the Internet. To get a browser of their own, they purchased the rights to Spyglass, a lesser-known Netscape competitor, renamed it Internet Explorer, and gave it away free, eventually bundling it with Windows 98 and later versions. With millions of users getting IT as part of their Windows installation, interest in 3rd-party browsers like Netscape dwindled. Today, some 95% of the people accessing the Web use Internet Explorer; many aren’t aware of any other way other than the blue ‘e’ on their computer’s desktop to get on the Internet.

    But it’s time to look closely at alternatives. Secure in its near-monopoly, Microsoft has not put much effort into Internet Explorer for years; it has changed little since 1997’s version 4, while hackers and sleazy fly-by-night companies have found computers running IE an easy target.

    As a result, Internet Explorer users have been finding accessing the Internet an increasingly unpleasant experience. They get bombarded with pop-up ads, and find their computers infested with spyware that saps performance, changes their set ups, and potentially shares personal information.

    There are several alternatives worth investigating. Opera ( comes in two versions—a free version with an ad-bar (but no spyware), or a US$39 ad-free version. Mozilla ( is an open source project with several browsers, all free. The main Mozilla suite is a much-improved descendent of Netscape; it includes a browser, email, usenet program, webpage creation program (which is used to produce the pages of the online version of Columbia Journal). Mozilla’s Firefox is a browser-only off-shoot that is my current favourite.

    Opera, Mozilla, and Firefox all offer popup blocking, the ability to view multiple pages as tabs in a single screen (which is more useful than it sounds), and are all more secure than Internet Explorer. It’s easy to import your collection of Internet Explorer favorites.

    If you try one of these, you’ll find a few websites (such as some financial institutions and Microsoft’s Windows Update site) that won’t work right. But Microsoft doesn’t let you uninstall Internet Explorer, so when you really need it, it’s there.

    But give one of these browser alternatives a try. You may find they make the Web a safer, more pleasant experience.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at