I’m hesitant to make any bold predictions about what 2009 will hold for technology, but this one seems profoundly safe: a lot of Web browser upgrades will ship. That’s because new versions of the current big five–Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera, and Safari–are all in various stages of progress. And prerelease versions all except Safari are available for download right now. After the jump, a quick guide to what’s up with each of them. If you’ve been using any (or all!) of them, let us know what you think…
Current version of the beta: 0.4.154.31
How long has it been in public prerelease? Since 9/02/08
Reasons to download it: A pleasingly minimalist interface; fast performance for Web apps and ability to iconize them in your Start menu; Omnibar address bar; Icognito stealth (aka porn) browsing mode.
Reasons not to download it: Lots of basic browser stuff like bookmark management is really, really basic. Or missing altogether. Plus, you can’t get the Google Toolbar for it.
Overall, how promising is it? The current beta, paradoxically, is both incredibly rudimentary and very, very slick. I wouldn’t use it as my primary browser, but it wouldn’t stun me in the least if it becomes a big player in the long term.
When is final release expected? Google isn’t telling. Nor will it say when Mac and Linux versions will arrive.
Current version of the beta: Beta 1
How long has it been in public prerelease? Since 07/28/08
Reasons not to download it: Your beloved Firefox 3.0 add-ons may well not work.
When is final release expected? March 2009.
Internet Explorer 8.0
Current version of the beta: Beta 2
How long has it been in public prerelease? Since 03/05/08
Reasons to download it: Better support for Web standards; “Web Slice” subscriptions to snippets of information; “Accelerators” to send info between Web services; InPrivate stealth browsing mode; screens for malicious sites.
Reasons not to download it: Because you moved on from IE long ago. Or, you use an operating system that doesn’t have “Windows” in the name.
Overall, how promising is it? Anything that makes IE adhere better to Web standards is a good thing, since much of the Web is currenty jerry-rigged to work properly in IE 6 and IE 7. Web Slices and Accelerators look intriguing, but their success is contingent on Web developers embracing them, and Microsoft doesn’t have a great recent track record of getting the Web to climb on its bandwagons. Overall, though, this is a more timely and interesting IE upgrade than IE 7.
When is final release expected? Microsoft says it’s doing one more prerelease version in the first quarter, and will then release the final one.
Current version of the beta alpha: 10.0 Alpha 1
How long has it been in public prerelease ? Since…let me check here…today.
Reasons to download it: Better support for Web standards; faster; inline spell checker; auto updates; rich text editor for mail; mail client can delete old mail.
Reasons not to download it: It’s an alpha–it’s crashed spectacularly once in the couple of hours I’ve used it, and I’ve noticed other quirks. Lots of them.
Overall, how promising is it? I’d never argue that improving support for Web standards or souping up performance is insignificant, but overall, it looks like this is Opera 10.0 not because it’s a huge deal but because the last version was 9.6. In other words, it’s only .4 of a great big upgrade. If that.
When is final release expected? Opera doesn’t seem to be saying, which is understandable given it’s just getting the first alpha out the door.
Current version of the beta: It’s been widely reported that Apple has distributed a preview version to developers.
How long has it been in public prerelease? The great unwashed can’t get their hands on it yet, but you might try signing up for a free Apple Developer Connection account if you’re curious about what developers may have access to and can reasonably claim to be one. (Note: If you do, you’ll have to agree not to write about what you find there–I did when I signed up.)
Reasons not to download it: Because you’re not a developer.
Overall, how promising is it? Too soon to tell.
When is final release expected? Only Apple knows, and it’s not acknowledging that the thing even exists–a search on Apple.com doesn’t bring up any relevant results. Next year, presumably.