Every time you access the internet, what you’re doing is using a web browser. And even though Internet Explorer is installed on just about every non-Apple Macintosh computer out there, there are many other web browsers to use and reasons to use them.

Each have their benefits and disadvantages, so to help you understand your options, here is a breakdown of some commonly used browsers. These are for personal computers, but there are browser choices for smart phones and tablets as well. An online search will deliver downloads you can use.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s web browser, has been around since 1995. It is probably the most common because it comes with Windows computers. It offers the advantage of already being installed and integrated with your operating system. It offers the additional benefit of being updated with your operating system as part of Windows update.

However, Internet Explorer has been associated with a variety of security flaws and many have shied away from its use because of this.

Google Chrome

Chrome is a free, downloadable web browser. It is noted for its speed and uncluttered appearance. Again, depending on whose statistics, Chrome is neck and neck with Explorer as the most used browser, a feat considering it has only been available since the fall of 2008.

Chrome is touted as highly secure, but studies have shown it to be less effective than many of its competitors at protecting computers from the exploits of malicious websites.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox is another free, downloaded browser and is the evolution of one of the earliest commercially available web browsers, Netscape. Firefox offers a complete range of features and is good at rendering standards-based web sites.

Earlier versions were slow to load and used a lot of memory. Both of these issues have been mostly rectified.

Firefox gained a reputation for being more secure than Internet Explorer. This is a bit difficult to understand based on the data. Firefox has a much longer list of security vulnerabilities, however, these tend to be found and fixed faster than the other browsers.

Opera

Opera has been around since 1996 and many users sing its praises. It is a free download and has a simple interface. Because of the company’s commitment to making the program friendly for visually impaired users, the program is easy to use. It loads and works quickly and supports a wide range of functions. It also comes with a variety of customizable security features that can be configured to meet user needs.

A note on security: some browsers are better than others when it comes to protecting you. However, unless you check frequently for updates and security patches, that level of security can’t be maintained. Even the most secure browser loses that status if you do not ensure that it protects you against the most current exploits.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.