Firefox and Internet Explorer aren't the only way to explore the web.

Here are 10 alternative, lesser-known browsers whose unique features make them worth consideration.

1. Flock

Based on Firefox, Flock is a browser optimised for social networking, and it includes a number of features that tie the most popular social networks right into the browser.

It integrates Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube and also includes a native feed reader so you can monitor your favourite blogs. Flock also includes a blog editor that has a web clipboard, media toolbar and photo uploader.

2. Green Browser

It's neither green in colour nor demonstrably environmentally friendly, but Green Browser does have a few features that some users will find attractive.

These include support for mouse gestures and the innovative mouse-drag feature that enables you to search the web by dragging text straight from an existing page.

It also supports tabs, multiple search engines, automatic page refresh and form filling. Chrome-like thumbnails make it easy to find pages you've previously visited.

3. Slim Browser

Tabbed browsing can be extremely useful. Slim Browser takes tabs to a new level by enabling you to rescale them and bunch them in groups within the browser.

You can save these groups in the Groups menu and then open the lot in a single action. Instead of setting a browser homepage that displays when you first launch it, Slim Browser offers a group that you can open on startup, making it much quicker and easier to get to work on your most-used pages.

4. K-Meleon

K-Meleon attempts to occupy the middle ground between Internet Explorer and Firefox while remaining lightweight for speedy performance.

You can enable an Internet Explorer theme that makes the program closely resemble IE, although it has fewer features to maintain its small footprint.

Macros make it possible to automate common daily routine tasks so you can concentrate on more important matters.

K-Meleon is particularly suitable for low-spec computers whose performance might otherwise be dragged down by a weightier app.

5. xB Browser

xB Browser is maintained by XeroBank and based on Firefox. Its predecessor was Torpark and it operates in a very similar manner, using the Tor network to preserve the privacy of its users.

Most sites routinely log the IP addresses of visitors for statistical analysis, which means it's possible to find the ISP of each visitor.

Tor is a network of proxies that are randomly assigned so that it's much harder to find the identity of visitors. xB Browser clears the browsing history and all cookies when it's closed. On the downside, Tor is quite a drag on performance.

6. Maxthon

Maxthon used to be called MyIE2: it was developed to be a more intuitive alternative to Microsoft's offering.

The emphasis is on usability, so it's easy to navigate and you can quickly open and manage tabs and bookmarks.

It also provides an intriguing function called Anti-Freeze, which kicks in when the browser is frozen, saving you from those tricky decisions when it's hard to decide whether to force a close or wait for something to happen.

7. SpaceTime

SpaceTime adds a new dimension to your browsing – namely a third one. Instead of displaying multiple pages in tabs of ever decreasing size, SpaceTime places them in an unlimited 3D space that you can quickly scroll through them, seeing the contents of each page as you go.

Searches become much quicker as SpaceTime opens the results of your search in this 3D space, allowing you to quickly flick through the resulting pages rather than examine text summaries.

The browser includes a timeline to make it easy for you to return to pages that you've already flicked through.

8. uBrowser

If 3D means more to you than flicking through an animated stack of 2D pages, uBrowser might be more up your street.

It renders fully interactive web pages onto geometric shapes, enabling you to create a cube with a different page for each face.

At present there's little more to it than simply looking cool, though. It was really developed for embedding web pages in virtual environments, like Second Life.

9. Browse3D

Browse3D provides yet another 3D environment for you to browse in. You can place your open pages on one of three walls and select the active page by picking its image from those on display.

Browse3D also enables you to compare pages side-by-side.

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First published in PC Plus magazine issue 286

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