My view of the world is partly framed by my computer screen, so I found it nearly impossible to ignore the clamor this fall about new Web browsers. At the end of August Microsoft
) released a beta version of Internet Explorer 8, which was followed a couple days later by an online comic book
that announced Google's
) launch of Chrome, for Windows only.
And who could ignore the buzz in October about Microsoft's SearchPerks
, an incentive program with prizes for those willing to sift the Web via its search engine Live Search? Or the fact that yesterday Google announced a new way for users of its search engine to customize their results,
ranking and annotating them?
I wondered why these big public companies considered browsers so important, why they had spent the money to update them and give them away for free over Labor Day weekend--and even to reward me to search online. So I rolled up my sleeves, downloaded, read some and talked to a stock analyst.
I was not the only one to notice some similarities in the two new browsers:
Both offer private browsing (Web surfing without leaving any history) and crash recovery (so that only the specific tab involved in opening a faulty Web site fails not the whole browser application).
Yet each browser has innovations. As reporters
have noted about Internet Explorer 8, for example, Accelerators allow you to highlight a term to use it as a launch pad for such applications as mapping, translating and e-mailing. The Web Slices feature lets you plant a snippet of a favorite site atop your browser; you'll be alerted as it's updated.
Chrome sports what Google calls a "streamlined" look. The browser is designed as a giant box, with its features tucked neatly inside for you to pull out. Chrome can also showcase within your browser screen nine small views of your most-traveled Web sites
. BusinessWeek points out that it's the "wizardry" under the hood that really matters and that enables this browser's applications to run fast
These browser makeovers come, says Scott Kessler, senior director of information technology at Standard & Poor's Equity Research, as browsers and search engines have increasingly become linked. "Companies are ... appreciating the increasing relevance of the browser and search in terms of how they communicate with the world, users, customers," he says. "A lot of applications that formerly ran on computers or desktops now operate within the confines of the browser itself."