Wild Wild Web - the browser ballot's lesser-known options

We're not going to insult your intelligence. You know what Firefox is. You might have tried new boy Chrome. If you're a Mac user, you'll be familiar with Safari. You may even be a fan of long-running innovators Opera. One thing's for sure - you're unlikely to be using Internet Explorer out of choice.

But that's not the limit on your options - in Microsoft's EU-mandated browser ballot screen, there's seven others. If you scroll to the right, past the randomly-ordered 5 biggest browsers, you'll find a whole different world of software - a wilderness populated by eight-legged horses, social media gurus and Chinese bedroom coders. We took a look at the other options, to see if it's worth veering out of the mainstream.

 

K-Meleon 1.5.3

Acid3 Score:
53/100
Download size:
5.46MB
Perfect for:
Internet cafe owners

K-Meleon is a highly customisable browser which uses Mozilla's Gecko engine to render pages, but the Windows API to create the UI - so it looks a little bit more like Windows. It's open-source, and all aspects of the interface are flexible and able to be configured and customised. However - there's no interface for doing so - just a set of files that you can tweak in a text editor, meaning that it's useful for libraries, web cafes and other places where you don't want users messing with settings too much.

While its download size is relatively large compared to others, the browser was pretty quick and scored a high-ish 53/100 in the  Web Standards Project's Acid3 test. It's not the prettiest around, but can be themed if you so desire. It also supports a few Mozilla extensions.

 

Sleipnir 2.9.3

Acid3 Score:
20/100
Download size:
4.65MB
Perfect for:
Norse hippophiles

A sleipnir is a mythical 8-legged horse in Norse mythology - the steed of god-in-chief Odin. It's not entirely clear why Japanese software house Fenrir picked that as the name for their browser, but who are we to judge? It's been rather successful in its native Japan, grabbing 6% marketshare in 2006 and aiming for expansion.

Its key feature is that it can switch between Microsoft's Trident and Mozilla's Gecko rending engines on the fly - meaning that it'll be rare to encounter a page that can't be viewed properly. It also supports mouse gestures, zooming and user script and plugin support. It looks rather generic, and packs a low Acid3 score, so despite the most interesting name on the list, we can't find a lot of reasons to recommend Sleipnir.

 

Flock 2.5.6

Acid3 Score:
72/100
Download size:
12.7MB
Perfect for:
Social media fanatics

One of the more interesting browsers in the second tier, Flock has been built with one goal in mind - to make sharing stuff on the Web very easy. It uses Firefox's Gecko engine, and includes specific support for a whole pile of social networking sites - MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Blogger, and all sorts of others.

When you log into one of those sites in Flock, it'll recognise it and load it up in a sidebar for easy access even if you browse to other sites.  There's also a media bar that can detect feeds of content and automatically display them in a list that's regularly updated. The downside of all that functionality, and the sky-high Acid3 score of 72, is that the browser performs sluggishly and comes in a massive 12.7MB download - bigger than any other browser in its category.

 

Maxthon 2.5.11

Acid3 Score:
13/100
Download size:
5.75MB
Perfect for:
Chinese advert haters

Maxthon was originally created by a Chinese coder named Cangyou who wanted a customised version of his Internet Explorer browser. He called it MyIE, but eventually abandoned the project after posting the source code to a forum. MyIE2 was then built by another coder, Jeff Chen, who eventually renamed the project Maxthon - which means "Fun to navigate".

The browser, which has the number two spot in China, uses Internet Explorer's Trident engine, and includes an advert-blocker out of the box, meaning that it's great for people who aren't keen on irritating flashing banners. It's a little slow, and occasionally the URL bar will flash a garish yellow, but compared to the others in the list it's relatively attractive and functional. Hilariously, when you quit, it gives you the option to "Erase all history NOW!" - which is perhaps a product of its Chinese heritage.

 

GreenBrowser 3.2.0

Acid3 Score:
13/100
Download size:
1.12MB
Perfect for:
The easily distracted

If you're a big multitasker, you might quite like the ultra-lightweight GreenBrowser. It's built from the same code base as Maxthon - the MyIE code. In fact, it's so similar that extensions from Maxthon can be used in GreenBrowser, and the ad-blocker is the same, too. Where it differs, however, is its weight - the download is a tiny 1.12MB - the smallest in the test - and it's relatively zippy compared to other Trident browsers.

It's also got a few features aimed at those who multitask a lot between different programs. As well as its small footprint and ad-blocking capabilities, it also comes with a glowing green "G" icon that sits always-on-top of any other program. You can click it at any point to bring the browser up to the front. That could prove useful.

 

SlimBrowser 4.12

Acid3 Score:
13/100
Download size:
2.07MB
Perfect for:
People who like options

SlimBrowser is the only browser we've ever seen - in fact the only bit of software we've ever seen - which gives you the option in the installer to just install shortcuts - not the actual program itself. Baffling, especially as those shortcuts will then fail to work. If you do tick the box to install the program files, however, you'll find a strikingly blue browser which uses the Trident engine to render pages.

If you don't like the blue, that's okay - you can reskin it, and it also includes an ad-blocker, the ability to sort sites into groups, and the ability to hide sites from view without closing them. On the downside, though, it's a little slow, scores terribly on the Acid3 test and flickers ominously when you resize the window. Probably not top of our list.

 

Avant Browser 11.7

Acid3 Score:
20/100
Download size:
1.95MB
Perfect for:
Readers of long articles

Lastly, there's Avant Browser - another Chinese creation which is built around the Trident engine, and requires IE 6, 7 or 8 to be installed to work. Again it comes with an ad-blocker, and again it flickers a bit when you resize the window, but it has a few features that sets it apart from the other options in the list.

The original idea was to combine the rendering of Internet Explorer with the ergonomics, usability and features of Opera. In fact, it was originally called IEopera - though that was changed fast. It offers online storage and syncing of settings, bookmarks, RSS feeds and passwords. Its popup prompts are rather less intrusive than most of its competitors and it has an auto-scrolling feature for reading long websites. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite render a few important sites right - like Gmail - so we'd advise a little caution before switching to it full-time.

 

Conclusions

While there's plenty of options out there for people looking to switch from Internet Explorer, we'd find it difficult to recommend any of the options above for full-time use. Most share the same slow rendering engine, and pair it with an ugly interface that - while customisable - just isn't as genuinely pleasant to use as browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. If you're serious about switching, then we'd recommend opting for one of those.

Have we missed a crucial feature on any of the above browsers? Is one of them your absolute favourite? Tell us why you love it in the comments below.