There are so many great Web browsers available today that the superpower struggle between IE and Netscape sometimes seems as distant as the Cold War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. We recently became acquainted with Maxthon, a free browser that offers some unique advantages, such as its Dual Display Modes, Ultra and Retro. Maxthon automatically switches between Ultra Mode, which uses WebKit to render up-to-date sites, and Retro mode, which uses a legacy engine for older sites built with earlier tools. It also offers safe browsing; toolbar apps like notekeeping, translations, feeds, and screen capture; mouse gestures; smart drag-and-drop; autofill; multisearch; and ad and pop-up blockers.
Maxthon installed very quickly, a good start. Its tabbed interface, customizable toolbars, integrated search field, and Favorites menu give Maxthon a familiar feel that we quickly enhanced by importing our bookmarks, something Maxthon can do from IE or any HTML-based browser bookmark file. Like all contenders in the increasingly crowded browser field, Maxthon's look and features can be customized to suit your needs and moods. The highlighted Safe icon indicated we were visiting a validated Web site; clicking it opened information about the site. The Ad Hunter feature worked quite well, blocking ad pop-ups on the most annoying sites we visit without blocking content we wanted to see; in any case, it's easy to toggle on and off via an icon on the bottom right. There's even a mute button built into the lower frame to quickly silence noisy sites. In fact, Maxthon offers a full complement of features and options, and everything we tried worked well.
Now, on to the dual-mode browsing. It's, in a word, cool. To our knowledge, this is a unique capability that worked very well. A small square on the address bar changes from a yellow lightning bolt to a blue graph icon to indicate which rendering engine is in use. Browsing to a Web site rendered with WebKit tended to make the difference obvious, with crisp graphics that loaded with lightning speed. We could switch manually between Ultra and Retro Mode, too, for Web sites that didn't render perfectly in WebKit. Try it for yourself and see what makes Maxthon different before the others catch up.