One of My Mac’s readers, Teemu Masalin, wrote in and suggested that we consider a browser shootout to present the best and worst of both Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator (thank you, Teemu!). We thought it was a great idea, but instead of a shootout, it became something more. With Russ as the referee/moderator, Jeramey Valley, Mike Wallinga, and Jay Timmer got together early one Saturday morning in a chat room and immediately the battle was joined. What was the outcome? Who won? Read and decide for yourself!
Russ: Good morning guys!
Jay: It’s not morning yet–my coffee’s only half-way finished
Jeramey: Geez, I’ve been up for 4 hours!
Russ: I’ve been up since 6 a.m., had a pot of coffee already… time to begin!
Russ : Welcome to the Browser Rumble!
Jay: Will the moderator kick things off?
Jeramey: IE kicks butt because….. Oops, jumped the gun…
Russ: Yes, you did… again! For our readers, Jeramey and Mike are here to defend the honor of Internet Explorer (from hereon referred to as IE), and Jay to defend Netscape’s Navigator/Communicator. Let’s start with some background: Jeramey, how long have you been using IE?
Jeramey: Since 3.0.1, whenever that came out.
Russ: Mike… you?
Mike: I tried 2.1, didn’t like it, switched back to Netscape, but since IE 3.01 came out I’ve been hooked. So, probably about two years.
Russ: Jay, when did you start with Netscape?
Jay: I had been using IE 3 and 4, because Navigator was an unstable slow mess. When 4.5 came out, all that changed. It’s the most stable version since 2.0 and is extremely fast.
Jeramey: Not to butt in, but I’ve been using Netscape since 1.0, so I also use it…
Russ: Jeramey, why don’t you go ahead and explain your devotion to IE.
Jeramey: Feature-set and stability.
Russ: as in…
Download manager (I can see what I d/l)
History (shows me easily where I’ve been)
Separate email (I love Eudora)
Stable (Netscape used to crash frequently)
AutoFill (I hate filling out forms)
I can use whatever Java Virtual Machine I want
Page Holder (that is a cool feature)… that sums it up at the moment.
Russ: Boy, you’ve been studying…! Jay, your response for Netscape?
Jay: The IE download manager frequently doesn’t finish slow downloads and caches lots of stuff on your hard disk, creating huge files. The interface is better, but actual functionality is worse. Again, history is nice, but it slows down opening the browser and lets other people in a multiuser environment see exactly what you’ve been doing. Navigator certainly lets you use separate email.
I admit, Nav was unstable until 4.5, but that’s the past now. Autofill is nice, but not used all that often. The page holder just saves you from control-clicking on a link to open it in a different window. And shifting the page into the page holder is SSSLLLLLOOOOOWWWW.
Jeramey: Forgot about AutoComplete which Netscape didn’t have until 4.something and is horridly slow compared to IE (IE one char and it completes, Netscape thinks about it)
Jay: Basically, most of the features that are being promoted for IE are nice in theory but the practice is a bit lacking.
Russ: And what about Netscape grabs your attention and devotion, Jay?
Jay: I have no great devotion to either browser–I’ve used both, but Navigator is just faster and better implemented in a lot of ways.
Russ: Mike, your comments?
Mike: Well, I think a lot of Jay’s arguments are fairly subjective… I like the History, because I don’t have to bookmark every single site that I think I might revisit, and I like being able to see where other people have surfed on my computer (like my roommate at college, etc.) AutoFill is a godsend for me, because I fill out a ton of forms on the Net, like shareware registrations and email list signups.
The Page Holder, even though a little slow, is great for me, because with a small PowerBook screen, I don’t have room to open up too many windows at once! And, in contrast to Jeramey, I like the way Outlook Express integrates with IE. I also find it stable and fast.
Russ: What about the size of the browser and memory usage? Jeramey?
Jeramey: Navigator IS faster than IE (definitely notice it on fast connections). As for disk and RAM usage, I think IE still wins when comparing to Nav–IE 4.5 only want 4096K to run (and run decently–my G3 at work has it set to 14000k for a ton of pages and stuff). Otherwise, I never pay much attention to the current difference in RAM and disk usage between them; I expect they both will take up quite a bit.
Jay: Navigator is honest about the memory it uses–it requires more, but it doesn’t increase the system heap in unpredictable ways. And it releases its memory when done. It takes up more room on disk, but with most computers coming with at least a 4GB disk these days, I don’t view that as a major issue.
Mike: I will admit that there is a bug in the way IE uses the system heap–it will balloon on occasion. But I’ve grown immune to bloatware (which is probably a bad thing)–that’s what a 6 GB drive and 64 Megs of RAM will do to you, I guess.
Jay: Isn’t that the truth.
Russ: What about the reports of IE not releasing memory when it determines that the other app(s) would not function properly with the RAM it would release?
Jay: I’m a bit worried about Microsoft determining how well another program will use its RAM…
Mike: I haven’t heard that report, and haven’t had any personal experience with it to my knowledge, so I can’t really comment…
Jeramey: I run AppleShare IP on a number of servers (which does similar things to RAM) as does Retrospect; so I don’t think of that as a major issue, plus on a G3 with 192 I’ve NEVER had that problem. I’ve also not had a memory issue with IE (although I’ve seen what it does) on my 7500 at home w/98meg.
Mike: Even though, playing devil’s advocate, we shouldn’t let the fact that we have enough RAM to handle the bug be a reason for not addressing it.
Jay: I wonder how well we represent the average user.
Jeramey: How ’bout this: what hardware are you using product X on?
Mike: Exactly, Jay–some people might have a problem. PB 1400, 250 MHz G3, 6 GB Hard drive, 64 Megs of RAM, and Ethernet connection to a T1 line.
Jay: I know on my old 6100, the ever increasing RAM heap caused a huge problem.
Russ: Should someone be running either browser with the minimum amount of RAM required? What’s a sufficient amount for either browser, if there is such a figure?
Jay: I’ve got a G3/233, 33.6 modem, 96 MB RAM and a few 2GB RAID partitions on an U/W card.
Jeramey: 7500/200 98 RAM x 10 gig on OS 8.5.1 56k dial up; G3 266 192 RAM x 9 gig Ethernet to T1. I also support a huge variety of machines, but only bigger (200MHz+ boxes with IE or Net 4.5)
Mike: Russ, even though I have lots of RAM, I have IE set to use 8 megs (roughly double its default).
Jay: As I said earlier, Navigator is honest about its memory–it demands more to start up, but works nicely within that.
Jeramey: I’m happy using IE 4.5 with the default of 4 meg; I snoop Java, multiple pages, secure connections, etc., so I think it’s acceptable at that level.
Russ: How about Microsoft’s use of the drag and drop installer for IE? Comments?
Jeramey: That is a killer. My only concern is how it will deploy on 800+ machines when its autoinstall kicks in (not verified that yet).
Jay: Yes and no–again, it’s a nice idea, but it allows the person who created the installer to dictate the contents of your System Folder.
Jeramey: For the average user, the install method for IE is far better than Netscape’s.
Jay: Microsoft made some odd choices with the autoinstall, including some out of date system components. If you try to replace them with the up-to-date versions, it deletes them and brings the old ones back.
Jeramey: Jay, I know either browser will choke if you start throwing the wrong things away, how you can you dictate what Netscape installs/doesn’t compared to IE? In regards to the weird version stuff, I’ve had success in putting the up-to-date versions in place?
Mike: Like the QuickTime plug-in? I’ve successfully replaced it with the most recent version, too.
Jeramey: Yup, and a MS lib file in the Extensions folder
Russ: How do you all feel regarding the ability of IE to “self-repair” itself with the MS Internet First Run app? Good.. Bad…?
Jeramey: In most cases (again for the average user) the auto repair is cool.
Mike: Overall, I’m in favor of the install and auto-repair, too, even though it’s not as big of a deal for me as are IE’s other features.
Jay: The ones I’ve had trouble with are the latest Intel AVI codec and the Text Encodings files. I’m not saying it’s a bad feature, I just think that Microsoft has to be careful and will have to create a new installer on a regular basis.
Russ: How about Communicator’s Smart Browsing feature as compared to AutoComplete for Explorer? Comments? Complaints?
Jeramey: I do NOT like the fact my browsing habits are sent to Netscape. I’ve not completely followed up on what it does entirely, but the premise at least bothers me.
Jay: My understanding is that it’s only done if you attempt to access the menu. With 4.5, the autocomplete features are roughly on par.
Jeramey: The AutoComplete in IE is 80% cool, in that it is usually correct in what I’m trying to do. The AutoComplete in Netscape (on my machines) is much slower than IE.
Mike: Yes. I like AutoComplete in IE, and it integrates Sherlock (with OS 8.5) to find similar sites if you want it to.
Jay: I’ve not used the smart browsing often enough to comment in detail.
Russ: Does IE employ auto-update as its other software does?
Jeramey: Not that I’m aware of
Mike: Same here, Jay. I’m familiar with the premise, but not really experienced. I don’t think so, either.
Jay: Could I throw an issue out for consideration?
Mike: Go for it.
Russ: Of course
Jay: Netscape should be commended for at least recognizing that their programs may be put on a machine with multiple users. I maintain computers in an academic environment where several people share individual machines…
Jeramey: But have you ever tried to use Netscape in a true multiuser environment where multiple people use multiple machines?
Mike: Yes, I agree, a good thought, but in my experience not always well-used. Our campus computers all have Netscape installed, and of course tons of students use the computers…
Jay: The ability to create multiple profiles, the fact that it doesn’t record a history of what sites were visited.
Jeramey: The profile feature of Netscape makes admin of labs actually harder than before as you have more files in more places. We need that history file to see where the students (prove it) have been.
Mike: Having a seperate profile for EVERY student on campus is an impossibility, and most students just use the default, anyway.
Jay: Fair point.
Jeramey: With versions prior you just had the one pref file to toss around, now you have to dig deeper and trick Netscape to always use the one profile.
Jay: I’m in a lab environment, where we’ve got about 60 people and 20 machines.
Mike: For an environment like that, it would probably be easier.
Jeramey: I’m directly supporting 1,700 users and 400 machines; indirectly 10,000 users and 2,500 machines.
Jay: Also, although this is a slightly separate topic, IE is integrated with OE, which overwrites the Internet Config (IC) settings every time the user is changed.
Jeramey: The profile in Netscape definitely makes it more difficult to have the user prefs follow them from machine to machine. We have IC set to be reconfigured every time a user logs in, so that is not an issue. Plus we don’t use Outlook.
Jay: Hmm, I can’t imagine anything would scale well over 2,500 machines…
Jeramey: It actually works quite well.
Jay: We must be giving the moderator/editor nightmares by drifting so badly off topic.
Russ: Not at all… How about bookmark editing in both… ease of use.. problems?
Jeramey: Bookmarks in IE have been much easier to manage, I can’t comment as much on Netscape 4.5
Jay: I don’t see significant differences between the two in this respect.
Russ: How about Sherlock integration for Mac OS 8.5.x users of either browser?
Jeramey: The Sherlock integration with IE hasn’t been much use for me, so I don’t think either browser has a “better” chance on that one.
Jay: Obviously better in IE provided that you’ve left Sherlock in the Apple Menu. Either will work fine when called from within Sherlock.
The one thing I liked about that was to have Sherlock summarize a page to the clipboard. Where “that” = IE’s Sherlock integration.
Russ: Is there an overall winner regarding the browser rumble… or is it just what works best for the user’s needs?
Jeramey: I think if you use a brower extensively then the features that IE has that Netscape doesn’t make it a better browser. That’s why I prefer it.
Jay: I certainly think it’s a matter of taste. Both work well right now (though IE’s unstable on the machines I’m responsible for). If there’s a compelling feature in either of them, you won’t go wrong by chosing that browser. Just want to emphasize that IE has had some stability problems with each release.
Russ: Mike, you back yet? comments?
Jeramey: If you just surf and do some “extra” browser work (multiple windows, etc.) then either can do the job well. Re IE’s problems: they usually get sorted out within a couple of months with a patch.
Jay: And it seems that 4.5 is following that pattern
Jeramey: Ah, but for stability Netscape has always been unstable….
Jay: 4.5 was the first time I can remember that a regular release by Netscape hasn’t been the same.
Mike: I definitely think that if you need/want IE’s feature set, it’s the only way to go. If you don’t need or care about some of those features, Netscape is a good choice, too.
And with that, the preliminary battle of the browsers ended. No clear winner could be crowned this time. Maybe next time…