Avant Browser review

12 Mar 2010

The dated interface is the least of this ageing browser’s problems, which struggles with modern apps such as Google Docs and should be forced into retirement

3

If you asked most Internet Explorer deserters their reasons for switching, security would likely be high on the list. With this in mind, we couldn't help but chuckle at several quotes from Avant Browser's FAQ page. "Since it's based on Internet Explorer, Avant Browser is as secure as Internet Explorer," went one particular gem, presumably intended as a straight-faced positive.

It's described as a custom web browser application, designed to "expand the services provided by" Internet Explorer. What this actually means is that you need Microsoft's browser installed to run Avant, which merely piggybacks on top of the Trident engine with its own interface. Yes, it's essentially an IE add-on. Delve into the long menus and you'll even find IE's Internet Options pane for directly altering the underlying settings.

That's great news if your main reason for leaving Internet Explorer was that it was just too darned pretty, for Avant takes that polished IE interface and slaps a thick coat of circa-2006 Firefox 2 over the top of it. Or is it Netscape Navigator 9 from 2007? It's hard to tell beneath the opaque grey finish and the mess of icons other browsers have long done away with.

Avant Browser PC Pro homepage

The interface isn't a retro design choice, though: the reason it looks so old is that the last major release was Avant Browser 11, way back in September 2006. In some ways it was ahead of its time, introducing an online account for your bookmarks – something Google has only recently added to Chrome – as well as an RSS reader and an auto-fill function. Unfortunately, in the three-and-a-half years and close to 50 minor updates since, it's received zero new features.

It's evident that Opera was the main early influence, with Avant offering the ability to undock tabs and tile or arrange them within the overall browser window. Rather than simply dragging the tab to its destination, it's all done with right-clicks and menus so it's not exactly smooth, but it's a nice way to compare websites.

Other than that, the most interesting touches we could find – and it was tough – were a button to close all but the current tab and another to automatically scroll a window while you read, presumably to rest your poor mouse hand. That mouse hand can control tabs with 16 gestures enabled by holding the right mouse button; we disabled them after accidentally closing eight tabs with a distracted twitch. There's an ad-blocker built-in, and a full-screen mode that removes the toolbars for use on smaller displays.

Performance was shaky during our tests under Windows 7. Resizing or dragging windows caused stuttering redraws, and while it was fine with Flash-heavy sites and HD video on iPlayer and YouTube, Google Docs brought its Avant tab to a complete freeze every time we tried to use it. Given that Internet Explorer 8 only scores 20/100 in the Acid3 test, we weren't surprised to see Avant do the same, but its mid-table score of 6,489ms in SunSpider – and respectable 16MB memory usage – was actually better than we expected.

We don't doubt Avant's appeal early in its life, when it first melded Opera's innovative tabbed browsing to the industry-accepted IE engine. It might even have swayed us when version 11 brought online bookmarks to the party. But today, in 2010, it's been left so far behind that we're troubled by its presence on the browser ballot at all. The big five browsers are established, reliable and constantly evolving packages; Avant’s latest version is nearly four years old and requires the engine of another browser to run at all.

The worst part of all is that, by legitimising Avant with a place in the ballot, an unfortunate internet novice might click its shiny icon and come to the conclusion that web browsing is always this deeply uninspiring.

Details

Price ex VAT £0
Price inc VAT £0
Overall rating 3
Ease of Use rating 2
Features & Design 3
Software subcategory Operating system

Requirements

Processor requirement 300MHz

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no
Other operating system support Windows 2000