The browser wars are back, says E&T, with the release of Microsoft Internet Explorer 9. Also, discover how to tweak your photos on-the-fly with our pick of picture-editing apps.
Internet Explorer 9
Explorer has been lagging behind its rivals for a long time - but like Windows 7 for mobiles, this latest version is a massive push to try and play catch-up. Can a Microsoft browser outdo the likes of Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox? Possibly.
Among the IT literate, the standard way of setting up a new PC has been, for the last few years, to get your updates and service pack downloads out of the way, then immediately install your browser of choice - removing Internet Explorer as the default.
That way of doing things, and even the idea that people have a choice in browsers, has gradually spread from the geeks and early adopters to just about everyone. Even the IT barely-literate, from grans to little kids, regularly assume they need a new browser (or get one when someone in the family sets up their Web). This is disastrous for Microsoft, which has gradually seen its default position eroded across the board in a similar manner.
No one assumes these days that a Windows PC is the answer for everyone, especially with Macbooks appearing everywhere and Linux an increasingly obvious choice for some. Equally, even large corporations aren't necessarily sending their money Microsoft's way just to enable them to create a presentation or word processing document, with many increasingly turning to OpenOffice or alternative office suites. And Web-browsing, once synonymous with Internet Explorer, now happens on an array of devices with differing browsers (Safari, Chrome, Opera, Firefox etc).
It's doubtful that Internet Explorer can get the diehard anti-Microsoft brigade back on board, no matter how good it is. But Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) is good enough that it can certainly, once again, be a default option that most other people will be happy to leave on their new PC. And that's a big step forward.
How has Microsoft achieved this? Humiliatingly, by copying Google. IE9 looks very much like Chrome - copying its minimalist approach, including stripping out toolbars and using the address window as a 'one box' URL bar search field (you can set it to Bing, Google or let it also bring up results from Wikipedia, Facebook etc).
On top of that, Microsoft has added a host of neat features. The most flash gimmick is allowing you to pin favourite sites to your Taskbar, as if the site is a program, with sites also allowed to create custom right-click lists - so Twitter's icon enables you to move straight to mentions, direct messages etc.
Under the hood, Microsoft is playing up IE9's speed and security. Its 'test drive' site has a neat page letting you test IE9's support for graphics processors versus other browsers. Unsurprisingly, IE9 trounced Chrome. But in real-world tests on real-world sites, Chrome still seems to have the speed edge, but only just.
Microsoft has an Amazon book-flipping site to showcase its speed versus rivals but, on the other side of the coin, despite Microsoft making so much of its integration of HTML5 standards, The Arcade Fire's much-hyped The Wilderness Downtown interactive video site (an HTML5 showcase programmed by rival Google) can't - or won't - run on IE9.
Problems with running sites aren't solely restricted to those funded by Google (or other Microsoft rivals). IE9 is in Beta, true, but it still noticeably failed to work on too many sites - sites using standard HTML coding. This may well be early glitches, but it's a dangerous move by Microsoft to crow about its support for open standards and its browser's reliability, and then not deliver in a public release.
As well as talking up reliability, Microsoft has made much of IE9's security. The company's SmartScreen Filter malware expertise is at the core of Internet Explorer, but there's a whiff of hype to matters. Several rival browsers, including Chrome, already warn users of potential browsing threats from websites, and seem to do an overly cautionary job of doing so. Meanwhile, Microsoft's past ability to protect its users from malware threats (including every teenager ever found near Messenger) is chequered, to say the least.
So far, then, IE9 is nearly as good as the stellar Google Chrome. That may be a leap forward, and good enough to once more become the default option on new PCs, but it's not a clear browser winner yet.
Photo editing apps
PhotoForge for iPhone
Obviously, even the iPad version of this software won't stand up against Photoshop (or most full-screen, desktop photo-editing programs) but, of course, that's not what it's for. As a quick and effective tool for editing pictures you've taken on the fly, while still on the fly, it's excellent.
Curve adjustment, noise reduction, drawing tools and much more are available. The brushes and effect palettes will be fairly familiar to anyone who has used a photo editor, but the program does have some user-interface quirks and some users have complained of bugs. Despite that, it remains the most powerful and usable iPhone photo editor, beating Photoshop.com Mobile.
Price: £1.79 (£2.99 for iPad)
Radical Draw for Blackberry
Radical Draw works best with touchscreen RIM devices, but as long as you're on OS 5+ with a screen resolution of 480x360 and a trackball/pad, then it'll work on any other flavour of BlackBerry too.
This app helps you add text, clipart and basic drawing touches to photos as well as perform basic photo-editing duties (crop, rotate, artistic filters).
It's a great start but ultimately there's too little functionality here in comparison to the far superior and more powerful PhotoForge on iPhone.
That said, it allows you to email doodles and annotated pics quickly from your mobile to a friend which means it has its (fun and serious) uses.
PicSay Pro for Android
Again, the award-winning and commonly-held best Android photo-editor can't quite match the iPhone's PhotoForge - but that's not to say it's without charm or use. Red-eye removal, colour correction, text and clip art overlay, even lasso and cut-and-paste options are all in there, for what amounts to a surprisingly powerful app.
It gives more features than most mobile users will need, but keeps menus and palettes simple - the developer used to make Photoshop plugins, and the experience shows.
The end result means you can quickly edit photos taken on your phone in order to improve them,'or you can simply annotate them, before emailing on to friends or colleagues.
PhotoRite SP for S60 Symbian
The best of a bad bunch? The problem is that Nokia's phones have had a photo editor built-in for a while. It's not perfect, but it's good enough that you'd be unlikely to pay for anything else, which means other developers don't bother.
PhotoRite features auto-fixing, arty frames to drop on top of people's faces, some silly manipulation effects and a mixed bag of stylistic filters. It's all OK, but the user-unfriendly interface on most Symbian phones, plus the outrageous pricing and the likely availability of free basic picture editing on your phone if it's a Nokia smartphone, mean PhotoRite can't really be recommended.
Resco Photo Manager for Windows Mobile
A classic example of why Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform lags so far behind Android and iPhone OS: there are hardly any decent photo editing apps for it. Resco's Photo Manager is a very good photo viewer - with slideshow, upload and even GPS geotagging options. Tagged on is a basic image editor - allowing colour/contrast/brightness/gamma correction on sliders, resizing and cropping, and basic drawing tools.
Given how powerful Windows Mobiles can be, it's surprising there appears to be nothing better, though.