Time was when you wanted to browse the Web, there was no real choice what tool you'd use to do it. Netscape was the only real game in town. It was small, it was fun, and it was free.

I just found a floppy disk the other night where I had scrawled "Netscape 0.9N," back in the good old days when a computer program would actually fit on a 1.2MB disc with room to spare. Then the world changed when Microsoft woke up to this "Internet" thing and released Internet Explorer and eventually crushed Netscape like a cyber-bug.

Then came a bunch of upstart browsers, including Opera, Mozilla (later Firefox), a new Netscape, Apple's Safari and various browsers for special uses including anonymous proxy use.

Now the 8,000-pound Internet gorilla, Google, has released its own browser on the world. Called "Chrome," it is also free and promises to focus on the integration of multimedia content and JavaScript code. What the company is building, it says, is a platform on which to run all kinds of applications and not just deliver Web pages.

This is much what Microsoft is doing with Internet Explorer 8, which is in beta now (you can download it and play with it now if you enjoy a little risk in your life). Both companies understand that the Web is not just Web pages anymore, and more applications are being delivered from "the cloud" (the Internet), and we are now getting our e-mail, our documents, our spreadsheets and many more things directly from the Web. If our browsers can't handle that code, or can't handle it gracefully, it becomes a mess.

So what is the best browser out there?

Personally, I am using Firefox 3 for nearly everything, but I also keep Internet Explorer around for some applications that require it. For example, Intuit's QuickBooks online and one of my banks will not work with Firefox — no way, no how. I have tried Safari and tossed it after a few weeks. I previously tried Opera and found it wanting and got rid of it as well, but my experience is several years old.

Chrome, I am afraid, will suffer the same fate as all of the other browsers out there. Because Microsoft owns the desktop, its browser is the de facto standard because it is sitting on the desktop by default. Therefore, Internet Explorer has more than 75 percent of the market. Firefox has not been very good at piggybacking its install on other products (to its credit), but I think Google will be very good at this, given that a lot of applications I install hide the Google Desktop and Google Toolbar as "piggyback" installs. I presume the Chrome browser will do the same thing.f+tf-t the answer there is "Internet Explorer and Firefox." And the answer to the last question is a resounding ONE and the answer to that is "Internet Explorer."

So it will be very interesting to see where Chrome lands in all of this.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm, and tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is [email protected]