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Browser upgrades should boost Web surfing

Sun., April 10, 2011, midnight

The three leading browser makers have all released new versions of their software in recent weeks.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome now offer faster page loading, streamlined designs and additional features, including ways to block Web advertisers from tracking your online movements.

Internet Explorer 9 is available only for computers running Windows Vista or Windows 7. If you’re running Microsoft’s Windows XP or use a Mac or Linux computer, you’re out of luck.

All three new browsers are faster at loading pages. A lot of changes have been made under the hood to speed things up, including remaking the “engines” that run JavaScript, which is one of the key technologies around which Web pages are built these days.

The speed is particularly noticeable with Internet Explorer. By some independent assessments, it’s now the fastest browser available. All three also embrace HTML 5, a collection of new standards for coding and designing dynamic Web pages. Surfers also will notice that all three of the major browsers now emphasize tabs and the Web pages themselves, rather than buttons or menu options. You can turn on the menu, bookmark and other toolbars in Internet Explorer and Firefox, but by default they are turned off. That leaves more room for Web pages but makes it more difficult for users to control the applications or find things like bookmarked pages.

Each browser maker has also added its own version of an anti-tracking feature. Those features are intended to allow users to either bar advertisers from following their online movements or at least ask advertisers to refrain from doing so. There’s not yet a standard for how Web surfers can opt out of being tracked and targeted for advertising.

Firefox has a collection of new features called “App Tabs.” These are tabs that open each time you launch the browser and are visible no matter how many tabs you have open, helping you get to sites you visit frequently. The tabs change colors when their Web pages have changed, which can inform you when you’ve gotten a new message in Gmail, say, or new tweets on Twitter.

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