There was once a time when the world of web browsing was ruled by Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Those days are fast becoming ancient history thanks to the veritable smorgasboard of browsers out there catering to everyone's habits
On the whole browsers are completely free and offer a similar experience in that they find web pages and deliver them as quickly as possible. In addition to the regular suspects of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera there are plenty of new browsers ready to bring new perspective including Torch, Tor, Web Freer and various others. That's before you even bring Microsoft's brand spanking new Edge browser into the equation.
To find you the best browsing experience we've gone through the list with a fine tooth comb and picked out what we think are the five best free browsers for Windows PC users in the world right now.
Constant updates, add-ons and high performance across all platforms, especially Windows PCs, makes Mozilla Firefox one of the most popular web browsers on the planet. Its intuitive interface lends itself to beginners whereas the high level of customisation makes sure that advanced users are kept on their toes.
Tabbed browsing is at its heart and the add-ons is where Firefox really comes into its own by offering all kinds of ways to tinker with the browsing experience. Security is kept at an exceedingly high level thanks to the slew of updates that are always being worked on and a speed test last year showed that it is only second to Internet Explorer for speed.
Firefox, like most of its competitors, is constantly evolving and the latest feature to arrive as part of Firefox 41 is instant messaging for both desktop and Google Android users.
Windows versions going all the way back to 95 can still use versions of Firefox yet the latest stable version (35.0.1 at the time of writing) are only available for XP Service Pack 2, Server 2003 SP1 or later versions. As for the future, stable builds are on the way all the time and for HTML5 it is just bested by Google Chrome and Opera, thus making its features exceedingly hard for any other browser to beat.
Battling it out at the top of the browsing ranks is Google Chrome and for users plugged into the Google ecosystem it's quite simply a joy to behold.
It offers a cross-platform browsing experience that is second-to-none in terms of syncing information but to the run-of-the-mill Windows PC user it won't matter that this option is available. Like Firefox, Chrome comes with a wide array of apps and add-ons from the Chrome Store that add a considerable amount to the browsing experience and one area that it does even better than Firefox is the HTML5 loading speed that is at a higher level than any other Windows browser.
Chrome only runs on Windows XP SP2 or later and with support for XP disappearing in April 2015 it will be one of those browsers of of reach of those running older versions of the world's most popular OS.
In all honesty it's very hard to choose between Firefox and Chrome as they're both similar in what they offer to the end user so pick whichever you like the look of.
Unless you've been living the existence of a hermit for the past couple of months, you'll know that Microsoft released a replacement for Internet Explorer in late July in the shape of Microsoft Edge.
Designed to harness the very best of Windows 10, on first look the browser already appears completely different to its far older sibling except for one thing - it uses an 'e' as its logo that makes it familiar as the home of the internet for many PC users. One big way that it differs from IE apart from the design is the lightning quick performance it offers thus addressing a significant bug bear for IE users in the past.
There are obviously teething problems inside a browser that was in early beta as recently as March and one of the most annoying of these is certain sites that rely on Microsoft's Silverlight tech don't function correctly. The same applies for various poorly build sites that don't appear as they should.
Where it really comes into its own, though, is through the integration with Cortana that allows you to select anything and then 'Ask Cortana' what it is before it is displayed in the sidebar. Cortana is a big part of Windows 10 and its presence in Edge is a welcome addition.
Its very nature as part of the new era of Windows-as-a-Service means the problems will be ironed out as time goes on and as a break from the IE tradition this has the potential to be very impressive indeed.
One of the newest browsers on the top table is Opera with a speedy experience and various little extras that make it a credible rival to the big three Windows PC browsers. Yet again you'll notice the tabbed browsing experience that feel rather squared compared with Firefox and Chrome, and closer to IE in terms of looks. Although the similarities to IE end there.
Its extra features make it stand out and none more so than the Turbo mode. Opera's shot of NOS speeds up page loading times by compressing pages by up to 80 per cent and it is a god send for anyone with a sluggish connection. Although we're not sure whether Opera's claim that it will make a dial-up connection resemble a broadband line, it certainly does make it a lot quicker to get on to certain pages.
Speed dial is another added extra that enables you to add your favourite sites as large icons to the start screen, however, most other browsers now have a similar version of this available and the same can be said for the add-ons that are also elsewhere.
Sick of having to download apps or an add-on everything you do anything online? Torch is a Chrome-based browser that comes with a range of nifty tools already built-in to prevent you having to continually find add-ons.
Torch looks exactly the same as Chrome interface-wise, although that's where the comparison ends as there's so much more you can do from the get-go including the ability to download torrents and grab media straight from pages. There's also dedicated tabs for music, which clicks in to YouTube to deliver a polished Spotify-esque experience, and games are laid out as app tiles and can be played from right inside the browser.
In addition there are custom home and search page backdrops that come with the time in the top left corner and options for all manner of different wallpapers that can be accessed by selecting the menu in the top right corner.
It displays the same lightning quick HTML5 speeds as Google Chrome and Torch is an excellent alternative for anyone looking to a browser that breaks away from the norm.