Top 10 specialty Web browsers you may have missed

These oddly useful alternative browsers offer such advantages as 3-D searching, social networking, easy scriptability, and powerful page manipulation

In the game of technological one-upmanship, the browser used to be an easy place to win. Most people used Internet Explorer, so it was simple to gain the edge by using Firefox. But now Firefox is common, and even Opera and Google Chrome are losing their cachet. Safari ships standard with every Mac, so everyone, the cool and the uncool, have it by default. They're all excellent browsers, but they're still the status quo. Is there anywhere else to turn for a bit of distinction?

Finding an even more obscure browser is surprisingly straightforward, and it may offer more than just the feeling of superiority that comes from beating the crowds. Many of the alternative browsers exist to solve particular problems, and the new and better features are useful to us. Sometimes it's because we're part of some niche like Facebook, but often it's because our boss wants us to do something with information on the Web and the specialized browser makes it simpler.

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Some alternative browsers are just specialized versions of the common open source implementations. The rebels who feel that the world really needs another Web browser are also smart enough to know it doesn't make sense to reinvent the core technology. They just wrap their own features around Chrome or Firefox, Gecko or WebKit. This point is illustrated nicely in this family tree of Web browsers.

A purist might object that these hybrids are not much different from a standard browser with extra plug-ins. There's some truth to this, but not always -- some of the unique capabilities can only be done deep inside the software. In any case, the job of parsing the terms and creating an exact definition of the Web browser isn't as much fun as embracing the idea that there are dozens of alternatives.

So here's a list of 10 browsers that are not Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, or IE, but that are all the more useful because they're not. They aren't different because they have a different name and some buttons in other spots, but because they offer something that can't be found in the traditional browsers: a more useful representation of Web pages or search results, integration with social networking sites or other services, a lower resource footprint, faster page rendering, or even easy scriptability.

Not everyone will need these extra features, but the list is valuable as an inspiration. We can build new browsers. We can change the parameters of our interaction with the distant websites by adding new features and reprogramming the code. There are some cases when it makes sense to package these changes as extensions, and there are others when it makes sense to call the pile of code a new browser even if the core is an old one -- sometimes because the code is truly revolutionary, and sometimes because we just want to enjoy giving it a new patina.

Specialty Web browsers: Browse Web tables into spreadsheets with Kirix Strata

Specialty Web browsers: Browse socially with Flock

Specialty Web browsers: Browse leaner with Dillo

Specialty Web browsers: Browse in text with Lynx

Specialty Web browsers: Browse smarter on Mac OS X with Cruz, Fake, and Fluid

Specialty Web browsers: Browse in 3-D with SpaceTime

Specialty Web browsers: Browse Wikipedia better with Gollum

Specialty Web browsers: Browse musically with Songbird

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