Have you ever wanted to compare the contents of two browser tabs side by side?

A quite common situation occurred to me a few days ago when a client asked me to compare two computers that she had shortlisted for possible purchase.

Firefox-logoShe sent me the links to the web pages that she had been looking at and I duly loaded them into my browser (I still use Firefox as the privacy add-ons are better than on other browsers). This meant that I had two different tabs open and, as you might expect, I found myself clicking between them, comparing feature with feature on the two products. This soon started to fry my brain and I decided that it would be better if I could see them both at the same time, side-by-side. I couldn’t immediately think how to do that and thought instead about opening another instance of Firefox (which you can do by right-clicking the taskbar icon – on Windows 7 and 8, anyway – and taking the appropriate option).

IE9 - Internet Explorer 9 - logoThen it dawned on me that this was one of those occasions where our habits tend to lead us to do something that is sub-optimal because we can’t be bothered to spend a bit of time learning a better way. I’m pretty sure that we all do that quite often. Sometimes I’m looking over a client’s shoulder and catch them doing something a long way round. I’m very happy to show them a quicker way if I know one. In these situations, I am always reminded of the way I used to drive around London (before giving up driving altogether over 20 years ago). I would drive from known point to known point until I got near where I was going and only then would I think about how to home in on the destination. It meant, of course, that I was zig-zagging around town like a demented yachtsman, instead of learning the proper way (“No wonder you gave up driving”, I hear you say).

Anyway, I decided on this occasion that it’s time I sorted this one out and shared it with you.

Dragging a browser tab to a new window

Left-clicking on the tab in the red ellipse and then dragging in the direction of the black arrow caused the tiny window in the green ellipse to appear. Letting go of the mouse then turned this into a full-blown window. The image is of Firefox, but all the major browsers behave in a similar manner.

After a bit of playing around with different browsers, I discovered that, although their shortcut keys and menus are still different, ALL of the major browsers except Opera allow you to move any tab into its own window just by left-clicking on the tab itself and dragging the tab away from its normal position. Then let go of the mouse button and a new window immediately opens up on the correct web page.

It’s possible that this doesn’t work on older versions of browsers. I’m not going to molly-coddle users of such browsers by investigating and providing alternatives because I’m not going to encourage the use of old versions of browsers. It’s a good idea to keep your browser updated. Holes in browsers are a major entry point for the baddies out there to get at your computer, so it’s a good idea to keep up with the latest browser.

Putting my head on the block, I think the versions I tried this method on are the latest:

  • Firefox – 23.0.1
  • Chrome – 29.0.1547.57
  • Internet Explorer – 10
  • Safari – 5.1.7 on PC and 6.0.5 on Mac

I couldn’t find a way of moving a tab to a new window in Opera. Instead, you can arrange tabbed windows side-by-side by right-clicking on a tab and then choosing “Arrange” and “Tile vertically” or “Tile horizontally”

Chrome-LogoIf you are still using Windows XP, then the latest version of Internet Explorer you can install is version 8. This version does not allow you to drag tabs away from their bar. In that case, you may think you’ve just wasted five minutes of your life, but I’m going to take the opportunity to remind you that Microsoft will cease support for Windows XP (and Office 2003) in April 2014 and it may become very unsafe to use your computer online thereafter. Start thinking about replacing it. See this previous blog about Microsoft ceasing support for Windows XP and Office 2003.

Having split your tabs into two separate browser windows, you can then easily show two windows side by side by allocating half the screen to each window – if, that is, you are using a PC with Windows 7 or 8. I detailed the process for this here.

So, there you go, a shortcut that’s easy, almost universal, and intuitive (once you’ve used it once or twice).

What are the main internet browsers and are two – or more – better than one?

Internet Explorer

IE9 - Internet Explorer 9 - logoSupplied by Microsoft as part of Windows, this used to be the leading browser. The European Commission judged that Microsoft was taking unfair advantage by supplying their own browser with their (almost ubiquitous) operating system. A deal was struck in 2009 whereby new Windows machines pop up a screen pointing out that Internet Explorer is not the only browser. It then offers links to download other browsers. For more information, see this link to the Microsoft Competition Case.

Firefox

Firefox-logoFirefox is produced by Mozilla, a non-profit organisation. The main advantage of Firefox is that there is a huge range of “add-ons” that you can install to the browser. Other browsers also allow add-ons, but Firefox’s range is probably the biggest. Firefox gained a lot of fans a few years ago at a time when it was thought that Internet Explorer was insecure.

Chrome

Chrome-LogoChrome is produced by Google. It’s a fairly new browser (released in 2008), but is now probably the most popular (see the end of this article). In Google’s own words – “Chrome is a fast, simple and secure web browser, built for the modern web.”

 

Safari

Safari-logoSafari is Apple’s browser, installed as part of both its desktop/laptop systems (Mac) and its mobile systems (iPhone and iPad). Don’t ask me why Apple are allowed to bundle their own browser in their operating system but Microsoft have to offer alternatives. The only reason I can think of is that Apple is such a tiny minnow in comparison with Microsoft (as far as browser use is concerned) that no-one thinks it worth pursuing Apple for unfair practices. There is a version of Safari for Windows PCs but it doesn’t seem to be very popular.

Opera

Opera-logoThe other “main player” in browsers is Opera. This is a Norwegian product that is possibly not as well known as the others mentioned here, but seems to me to be stable and highly useable.

 


 

Can you have more than one browser installed?

Yes. Browsers are just like other programs in that they shouldn’t interfere with each other. In the same way that you could have two or more media players (such as iTunes and Windows Media Player) installed at the same time, you can also have several browsers. In fact, the only major area of software in which you must not have competing products is security software such as antivirus programs and firewalls. You can even have different browsers open at the same time.

Why have more than one browser installed?

There are several reasons why you might wish to have more than one browser installed on one system:

  • As a troubleshooting tool. Sometimes you might find that a website does not display properly or does not behave properly. This could happen if an “add-on” that you have installed on the browser isn’t “playing nicely” with some aspect of the website you are visiting or with other aspects of the browser it’s working with. It could also happen as a result of the browser itself interpreting the website’s programming in a manner not envisaged by the programmer. So, if a website is driving you mad because its behaviour isn’t what you expect, I would advise launching the same web page in a different browser to see if there is any difference. In my own system, for instance, there is some problem stopping me from accessing my online banking details when I use Firefox. There’s no such problem when using Opera.
  • To stay logged into Google without them knowing everything you do on the internet. If you use Google services that require you to be logged into your Google account (such as Gmail or AdWords), it’s very easy – and convenient – to stay logged in while you use the browser for other purposes. That’s exactly what Google want you to do as they can then track your movements as you browse the internet. If, like me, you don’t want Google to do this, but often forget to log out of your Google acount, then a simple solution is to use one browser exclusively for websites where you have to be logged in to Google. Just minimise the browser when it’s not in use and use a different browser for other online purposes. I’m sure the same principle applies for other online services that require you to be logged in but then use this to track your online activities.
  • To use services that require a specific browser. There are some things you can not do on Microsoft sites, for instance, unless you are using Internet Explorer. Downloading Microsoft program updates is an example. If you are using a Windows computer and prefer a browser other than Internet Explorer, I would not recommend un-installing Internet Explorer: just leave it there but don’t use it unless you need to for specific purposes.
  • Personal preference – different people using the same computer may prefer different browsers.

It might be logical for me to offer an opinion as to the merits and drawbacks of different browsers but, to be honest, I really don’t think there’s a lot to choose between them if you are an average user (and I think that covers all my own computer support clients). I use Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera on my PCs, Safari and Firefox on my Mac, Safari on my iPhone, and Firefox on my Android tablet.

Just out of interest, though, here’s a graph showing how the popularity of the different browsers has changed over time. This shows that Internet Explorer’s supremacy may at last be over as Chrome is now slightly ahead in terms of market share (the exact figures on this graph are Chrome – 28.4% of the market, Internet Explorer – 27.6%, Firefox – 22.8%, Safari – 14.1%, and Opera – 2.3%, miscellaneous – 4.8%). Source – w3counter

Browser Market Share 2012

You may also be interested in this previous blog post on the subject of web browsers

Do you find it frustrating that browser layouts keep changing? Do you struggle to find your favorites, for instance?

Over the last year or two there has been a tendency for browsers to become less “cluttered”. The designers have deliberately removed a lot of the buttons and options from the screen. This is meant to make the browsers easier to use. There’s no doubt that this leaves more room for the actual web page that you are looking at. On the downside, though, is that it is sometimes annoyingly difficult to do things that should be easy – finding your favorites/bookmarks, browsing history, and so on.

Not only is this problem made worse by regular updates to the browser, but if you use more than one browser life gets even more complicated.

Hands on piano keyboard

Some keyboard shortcuts need the skill of a concert pianist

So, I thought I’d have a look at the keyboard shortcuts that are built into the browsers and see if it might be easier in the long run to learn a few of them. My general advice with keyboard shortcuts is to learn some of the most common (that can be applied to lots of situations), such as Ctrl c, Ctrl v, Ctrl x, etc, but not to bother with the more arcane ones unless you really are likely to get into the habit of using them regularly. For some of them, you don’t just need the memory of an elephant, but also the dexterity of a concert pianist. I can’t imagine ever wanting to memorise that “Ctrl Alt Shift 4″, for instance, could perform any useful function.

Having looked at all the popular browsers (except Safari), I was pleased to find that a lot of shortcuts are common right across the board. Working on the theory that the more of these I present the less notice you will take of them, here is a short(ish) list of the most useful keyboard shortcuts that are common across all the major browsers – Internet Explorer 8 and 9, Firefox, Opera, and Chrome:-

[table file=”http://www.davidleonard.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Common-Browser-Shortcut-Keys.csv”][/table]

There are some important functions that don’t have common shortcuts. I’ve just looked into those that I find the most useful:-

[table file=”http://www.davidleonard.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Specific-Browser-Shortcuts.csv”][/table]

Notes:

a) I couldn’t find a shortcut key. Click on the spanner at the top righthand corner.
b) I couldn’t find a shortcut key. Click on the “Opera” logo at the top lefthand corner.
c) To use the shortcuts that include one or more “modifiers” (the Ctrl, Alt and Shift keys, for instance), first depress the modifier(s) and then, while that is still pressed, click on the other key. Then let go of them all.

As I’ve said, these are just a few of the most common functions. If you’re even sadder than I am, and want to spend a weekend studying browser keyboard shortcuts, then links to more comprehensive lists for the browsers are as follows:

Internet Explorer 8 shortcut keys
Internet Explorer 9 shortcut keys
Firefox shortcut keys
Chrome shortcut keys
Opera shortcut keys
Safari shortcut keys (for Mac users)

Are you happy for organisations to be logging which websites you visit?

You might assume that if you visit one website and then a completely different (and seemingly unrelated) one, there is no connection between the two and that neither of them would know about your visit to the other.

Homburg and binocularsAfter all, if you walked into one shop and then another, it would never cross your mind that your movements were being tracked. If you thought about it at length then it wouldn’t be difficult to work out that marketing people at John Lewis could tell if you’d bought something at Peter Jones in Sloane Square and then gone to Oxford Street and bought something at John Lewis. If you use the same credit card in both stores then they could work it out as they are the same company. If you didn’t want them to make the connection then you could have paid in cash.

Suppose, though, that you’ve merely walked in and out of HMV in Oxford Street (without even buying anything), and then yomped off to Muji in Whiteleys. You wouldn’t expect them to know in Muji that you’d just been in HMV (as far as I know they wouldn’t, so let’s not go overboard with the paranoia).

But that can happen in cyberspace. If a piece of software on one website has recorded your visit (on your own computer!), then a different website can access that information if the same software is installed on the second website as well as the first. The information is stored on your own computer in a small file called a “cookie”. I congratulate the inventor of that word for a magnificent piece of doublespeak. The word “cookie” conjures up ideas of pleasure, treats, sugar hits. The reality, though, is that a cookie is simply a text file containing information about a visit to a website.

Anyway, there is a growing unease about the way that far more information is being recorded about our web habits than we are aware of. This is why the EU introduced the badly-thought out “Cookie Law“.

Apart from the Cookie Law, a method is now being built into web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc) whereby we can state our wishes as to whether websites track our activity in this way. The theory is that this preference is then sent by the browser back to the website that we are visiting and that the website then behaves accordingly. This expression of preference is being called “Do Not Track”.

There are, however, a few rather nasty big flies in the ointment:

  • There is no agreement as to what “tracking” means.
  • Most websites don’t take any notice of the stated preference.
  • There is no rule or law that forces the website to take any notice.

Hmm…

The possible definitions of “tracking” could, for instance, embrace these ideas:

  • Do not track what I do on a website that can provide information for targeting me with advertising (eg I’m male, interested in books, and live in London).
  • Do not track the different sites that I visit (as this could allow inferences to be made about my behaviour, preferences etc).
  • Do not even track my movements within one site (eg which pages did I visit, in what order, and how long did I spend on each page).

BloodhoundThe World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is currently thrashing out the details of a standard agreement as to what tracking actually means. When that has been finalised there is likely to be legislation requiring websites to conform to the tracking preferences of website visitors.

At the moment, though, even if you are using a browser that enables you to set a preference for DNT (“do not track”) then it’s probably not switched on. In the next version of Internet Explorer (version 10) it will be switched on by default.

In other browsers:

  • If you are running IE8 with Vista or Windows 7 then it’s a good idea to upgrade to IE9. That option is not available if you are running Windows XP. IE8 does not support DNT.
  • To turn on DNT in the latest version of Firefox, go to Options, Privacy pane, and tick the box as illustrated.
  • Chrome doesn’t currently offer DNT.
  • In Safari, open Preferences, then Privacy, then tick the box next to “Ask websites not to track me”.
Firefox "Do Not Track" Control

The “Do Not Track” setting in Firefox

Despite all the shortcomings listed above, it wouldn’t do any harm to set your preference if you don’t want to be tracked.

A web browser is a program on your own computer that connects to other computers on the worldwide web, sends and receives data, and deals with that data for you (such as presenting it on screen, saving it, printing it).

There are several different browsers, made by different companies, that do the same job. The most prominent (with links where still available) are:

Internet Explorer logoInternet Explorer version 9 (not for XP)
Internet Explorer version 8 (for XP)

 

Firefox logoMozilla Firefox

 

Chrome logoGoogle Chrome

 

Safari logoSafari

 

There is also the AOL browser that is only used by AOL subscribers. AOL subscribers can also use any of the other browsers.

So what’s the difference between them? Not a great deal. Pushed to name the best feature of each, I would suggest:

Internet Explorer – automatic security updates via Microsoft update (that also keeps your Windows updated)
Mozilla Firefox – huge range of add-ons (plugins)
Chrome – fast
Safari – built by Apple, so has the look and feel of a Mac
AOL – er…

Unlike security software (antivirus, other antimalware, and firewalls) you can have as many browsers on your computers as you wish. They do not conflict with each other.

Plugins

Browsers originally dealt with text and images but they can now also handle a variety of types of multimedia (eg video). A lot of this functionality is provided by the addition of specialised programs called “plugins” and “add-ons”.

For instance, you are probably familiar with Adobe Flash Player. This is an extra program, installed separately from your browser, that gives you the ability to watch videos etc directly from your browser. If we didn’t have what Flash Player does then we would probably need to download our video to our computer and then open up a different program to view it. Flash Player allows us to view it within our browser window and also allows us to “stream” the content. “Streaming” means that we are watching the video as it is delivered to our browser, rather than having to save it all first before starting to watch it.

There are many, many other plugins that we can add directly into our browser. I use one on Firefox called Adblock Plus. This does a very good job of removing ads from most websites. It’s available for Firefox and Chrome.

Updates

If your browser tells you that there is an update available and suggests that you download it then I would recommend doing so. This is because at least part of the update is likely to involve improved security for your browser. Remember that the browser’s job is to communicate with other computers, passing data to and from your own machine. This is precisely the area where people with bad intent will try to exploit weaknesses. Therefore, it is important that as soon as a flaw in your browser is discovered and rectified, you should incorporate that rectification as soon as possible by updating your browser.

As far as updating plugins is concerned, you probably often see nagging screens advising you to update Adobe Flash Player. Annoying though they are, I would suggest complying as the update may very well be to do with security. Likewise, if you see nagging messages about updating Java then I would comply for the same reason (Java is powerful programming installed on your own computer that websites call upon to add bells and whistles to their web pages).

Default Browser

If you have more than one browser installed then opening one up may cause a message to be displayed along the lines of “SuperDuper browser is not currently your default browser. Make it the default?”

The “default browser” is the one that loads up when a browser is called for, but none has been specified. Suppose, for instance, that you have a web page saved on your computer. This will probably be an “html” file. If you double-click on that file then your operating system looks for the “default program” (in this case a “default browser”) to open that file.

Obviously, there is only one “default browser” and the message above (when you start the SuperDuper browser) is really no more than your SuperDuper browser screaming “me, me, me” at you. It thinks it’s the most important browser in the universe and that it’s doing you a favour by suggesting that it should be the default browser instead of the one that you currently have as the default.

You can always change your default browser by opening up the one that you wish to be the default. If it doesn’t automatically scream at you to make it the default then look for the option to change the settings. There is bound to be a setting somewhere to make that browser the default.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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