Web browsers are like surfboards for internet users. Internet Explorer is still the most widely distributed browser, but it doesn't take much scratching beneath the surface to discover that other programs provide better protection from phishers and other cyber-criminals. As an added bonus, the other programs are also generally easier to use and offer more functionality.
The best known alternative browser is Firefox, from Mozilla. It continues to steal market shares from Internet Explorer, not least because it is considered a safer alternative.
"Security holes are much less frequently discovered in Firefox," says Andreas Hentschel from Munich-based Chip magazine. "The Firefox developer community is quite ambitious, which means that its comfort factor is constantly on the rise," says Christian Immler, an Internet expert and book author.
Another favourite among experts is Opera. "It gives its users a lot of freedom from the start," Immler says. This includes the highly customizable settings for different web pages, an email client, and an intelligent download manager that restarts interrupted downloads.
Another helpful feature of Opera is mouse gestures: many functions are activated by moving the cursor in a certain way across the monitor. Capabilities like integrated search engine function, a pop- up blocker, a phishing filter or the parallel opening of pages in one window - known as tabbed browsing - are at this point considered standard by most users.
In terms of security, the best browser is largely a matter of taste. For users who employ certain web functions very frequently and intensely, a specialised browser may be the right choice. This includes software like Flock, which is based on Firefox. It includes integrated blogging tools and an upload function for the photo portal flicker.
Users who want to conceal their surfing habits from curious web page operators can turn to another Firefox spinoff called XeroBank. It channels all data through distributed servers, which makes the user's trail through the Internet impossible to track. The price is speed: the program's connection can run mind-numbingly slow at times.
Lauge is an Internet Exporer based browser intended for eBay fans: two windows allow for parallel access to the tree structure used for article categories while still allowing the user to review individual auctions. The overview of any item up for auction is also made a bit easier to follow. The browser is unable to surf other sites, however.
Users who still prefer the Internet Explorer feel they can opt for what are known as "IE shells." They are based on IE but offer different visuals and expanded functions. Avant browser, for example, expands on IE to offer an ad-banner blocker and mouse gesture controls. Yet the shells cannot compensate for the fundamental security flaws related to IE.
"If a vulnerability is found in Internet Explorer, it applies to the shell too. They're just as vulnerable," Immler says. "Special browsers and shells don't offer any automated updates, either," Hentschel says. Both experts recommend more secure alternatives like Firefox and Opera for this very reason.
INFO-BOX: Tuning your browser
Browsers can be tuned. For Firefox, this means downloading add-ons from free developers (https://addons.mozilla.org). This applies for Opera as well (http://widgets.opera.com). Internet Explorer is considered by many to fail to offer sufficient protection against hackers and for privacy. The IE7pro plug-in offers extended protective functionality for the browser (http://www.ie7pro.com). ( dpa )