Dan's Web Tips | Brand X Browsers | MSIE Skins

Dan's Web Tips:

"Brand-X" Browsers -- MSIE Skins

[<== Previous] | [Up] | [Next ==>]

MSIE in Sheep's Clothing

It's getting harder these days to tell a true alternative browser from one that just looks like one. The reason is that Microsoft Internet Explorer, embedded in Windows 95/98/NT (the subject of a raging antitrust battle between Microsoft and the U.S. government), is implemented in a manner that allows its HTML rendering engine to be accessed by other programs, which can put their own user interfaces around a Web view that's actually MSIE's. Such browsers might look very different in areas like what toolbar buttons they have, and might add various new features in areas other than the rendering of HTML, but the HTML functionality is entirely MSIE's, and will vary based on which version of MSIE you've got in your system (which these other browsers simply piggyback upon). Thus, this sort of browser is not of much interest to developers interested in checking how their sites work in different browsers, or to Web "purists" seeking browsers with possible higher standards compliance than the dominant one, since the way HTML is displayed in them won't be any better or worse than in MSIE. In effect, they're not new browsers at all, but just different "skins" or "chromes" atop MSIE's engine.

I used to list a few of these in the normal browser listings on this page, but have decided to take them out due to their not being true alternative browsers. I've left in some that are technically add-ons to MSIE (or, sometimes, to Netscape or another browser) if they provide significantly different rendering, such as in audio form.

Perhaps parallel in some sense is the growing set of Mozilla-based browsers, using the open-source Gecko rendering engine; they also raise the question of whether to include them directly in the listings or to make a special page for them just like this page is about MSIE-based browsers. They, however, are more distinct from one another than the "MSIE skins" because they actually include the rendering code, and might have somewhat variant versions of it peculiar to each, while the MSIE-based browsers simply use the rendering code that's already built into Windows (and hence vary in effect based on the version of Windows and MSIE the user already has). Since Mozilla, unlike MSIE, is open-source, the "alternative browser developer" might have even made specially targeted changes to the rendering engine for the specific program being developed. Thus, more than MSIE skins, Mozilla-based browsers do deserve to be separately itemized in the main listings.

For your information, some of the MSIE-based browsers I've run into are:

  • Auction Browser has built-in tools to help you track the status of online eBay auctions.
  • AvantBrowser is yet another alternative user interface for MSIE, with features like popup ad blocking. (I'll stick with Mozilla, which has that feature too.)
  • BrailleNote intends on adding a Web browser to future versions, but it's apparently going to be built on MSIE rather than being truly independent.
  • Crazy Browser has some features to improve the browsing experience, like ad blocking.
  • Custom Browser is a company that makes customized browsers for clients; generally "MSIE skins," but they're also developing a version that uses the Mozilla layout engine.
  • Deepnet Explorer lets you access newsgroups and peer-to-peer networks as well as the Web.
  • EIA Touch Screen Browser is probably an MSIE "skin," but I can't be sure since it's a product supplied in custom systems and I haven't seen an actual demo of it.
  • Enigma was touted by some as an alternative browser, and its marketing hype claimed it to be a standalone browser with no other browser software needed -- but this is false; it's just another MSIE skin, as you can tell (if it's not already obvious from the HTML rendering being exactly identical to MSIE's including the sound effects when you click on a link) by going to the browser detection script on this site. Its website, formerly linked here, has turned into a porn site, however.
  • GoToWorld pays you for browsing -- only a few cents an hour, and you have to put up with annoying on-screen ads. A multilevel marketing gimmick encourages members to recruit others; while they say they ban spamming, newsgroups these days are full of spam advertising this.
  • HexaBit Junior puts a "kid-oriented" interface on the Web, and adds filtering capabilities.
  • IRider makes a lot of hyped-up statements about how it's the "next generation Web browser", but it's really just yet another user interface on top of MSIE.
  • Jueti boasts about how it lets you put your favorite sites in buttons right on the browser toolbar, as if it's a new and original feature; actually, Netscape already has this.
  • KatieSoft shows multiple browser panes on screen at once. They're all actually instances of the MSIE rendering engine, though they confusingly have a Netscape logo in their upper right corner -- this is not there to indicate what browser you're looking at, but rather so you can click on it and open Netscape to view the same site you're currently on in that browser. (This launches a normal Netscape browser, not in one of the KatieSoft panes.)
  • Maxthon offers tabbed browsing (something you can do with Mozilla if you want a true alternative browser that supports it).
  • Metabrowser lets you see the Meta tags and other metadata in each page you surf to.
  • MyBrowser is no longer supported by its creators, who are currently promoting GoToWorld instead.
  • NeoPlanet has been an MSIE skin for most of its versions, but there was a version that also embedded the Mozilla layout engine so that you could switch back and forth between renderings, which could make it useful to developers (though probably just confusing to consumers). No version is presently available, however.
  • Phaseout is another one proclaiming itself to be an "alternative" browser when it's just the same MSIE wine in a different bottle. Like Maxthon, it has Mozilla-ish tabbed browsing, but without Mozilla's security and standards compliance.
  • Smartalec Voyager 6000 just seems to be yet another slight user-interface variation surrounding the MSIE engine, with nothing particular to recommend it.
  • SmartBro is yet another faux-alternative browser offering tabbed browsing and popup blocking. Yawn... I've already got that, and standards-compliance too, with Mozilla.
  • Snufkin adds some accessibility-oriented features, like access to pages linked via the LONGDESC attribute.
  • TreeBrowse gives a simplified interface with less clutter, and with a "history" panel showing the sites you've browsed to in a tree structure.
  • WebDoctor "cures" some Web ailments by giving its users features to control pop-ups and other such annoyances.


[<== Previous] | [Up] | [Next ==>]


This page was first created 24 Sep 1998, and was last modified 23 Mar 2008.
Copyright © 1997-2011 by Daniel R. Tobias. All rights reserved.