On test: the hidden seven browsers in the Windows ballot

Two weeks ago Microsoft started rolling out an update to all users of Windows XP, Vista and 7 within the European Union. This is no run-of-the-mill patch, but a forced opportunity for every Internet Explorer user to switch to a different browser and break the Microsoft monopoly. It sounds like a sensible, forward-thinking step – but as our test of the other seven minor browsers reveals, it could leave some users wondering what on earth happened to the internet they so loved.

Above is the screen all those affected will see – if you already have a browser other than Internet Explorer installed, you won’t be prompted to change – and it includes the five leading choices arranged in random order. These are all household names, but we’re far more interested in the seven choices you see when you scroll to the right. We show a random selection of them below.

Which left us wondering: what are these seven browsers actually like? Perhaps surprisingly, there’s no quality control on offer. The agreement hammered out between Microsoft and the EC simply stipulated the “12 most widely-used web browsers that run on Windows 7” based on usage share in the European Economic Area – that is, the EU plus Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Iceland. If you feel the urge to read the whole document (and we really don’t suggest you do) then it can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website.

So we did two things. First, we installed each browser on the same Windows 7 computer and tested their speed in the SunSpider benchmark, their memory usage with the Google home page open in a single tab, and their startup times – measured from the moment we clicked the icon to the browser window appearing. You can see the results for these on the next page.

Then we asked seven members of the PC Pro team to abandon their favoured browser and switch to one of these alternatives. To say they were delighted to do so would be a lie: there was gnashing of teeth, wailing and screaming pleas for mercy. All these fell on deaf ears. We provide full reviews of each browser in the Reviews section, but for a helpful summary click through to the next page.

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