With the beta releases of the next-generation Internet Explorer (IE), IE 8.0, and Google’s new Chrome browser, the web-browser-tech geek universe is having a field day comparing and contrasting these new offerings.  The biggest plus both offer is that even if one browser tab crashes, IE 8.0 and Chrome can prevent the entire browser session from crashing. Chrome lets you know the tab is bad; IE 8.0 will automatically restart the failed browser window.

I’ve been using them both since the Chrome beta became available this week. Chrome is often faster to load a web page, though it's not a huge speed difference, and IE 8.0 doesn’t have the page rendering problems I’ve noticed in Chrome, where the Chrome font choices and page layout are just slightly “off” from what the page designer intended.  But as both browsers are still in beta, I’m sure things will change before the final release of each application.

Both browsers are being positioned as the core system application that will enable the next generation of web apps that, according to some, will knock Microsoft from the top of the hill (as a business application provider) and bring wonderful benefits to users who make the move to web-based applications and web-hosted services. In Vista Update, and other venues, I’ve written about the benefits that can be had for small businesses by using web-hosted service providers for technologies such as email and backup, (see "Hosted Applications? Know Your Provider!" at http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/97002/hosted-applications-know-your-provider.html and "Hosted Applications" at http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/94860/hosted-applications.html) so I guess I’m one of the promoters of that possible future.

However, a major monkey wrench is about to muck up the works for web-based application delivery, and for a change, it’s only remotely a technology issue. The problem is this: Your ISP is likely to soon start putting a cap on your Internet bandwidth usage and add some serious charges or penalties if you exceed those caps.

This issue started to get more coverage in the last few weeks when one of the largest ISPs in the US, Comcast, decided it would cap its users at 250GB per month. Now this is a pretty generous cap, and there are few individuals who would likely exceed it, but if you’re running a small business or SOHO operation, it can become a serious limit, especially because there's no way to actually track your usage and Comcast’s original plan had a severe penalty: no Internet access for 30 days after you exceeded the cap.

But the 250GB cap that Comcast introduced is far better than the caps that other ISPs have introduced. For example, I first became aware of this issue about a month ago when the ISP for my second home, which is in a rural area, changed its terms of service (TOS) to limit the total Internet usage for a single account to 5GB a month of total traffic.  Customers screamed bloody murder, and the ISP, Frontier Online, quickly backed down on enforcing their TOS but hedged their bet by letting users know that they would have new software in place by 2009 to monitor usage and would be revisiting their pricing structure. Other, larger ISPs, such as Time Warner, are already beta testing capped usage plans, offering lower prices with 5GB caps, and a 40GB “premium” service with faster speeds and a higher price.

To give you some idea of the impact that bandwidth caps will have on you, let’s look at my personal use.  My primary desktop computer averages about 15GB per week of Internet traffic, more upload than download, as I trickle data to an online backup service.  That’s an average however; on some days I’ll exceed the weekly average if I need to pull OSs, applications, and virtual hard disks (VHDs) down from vendor sites in order to do my job.  And that 15GB weekly average is only for one of the five Internet-connected computers in my home.  My kids play online games, everybody in the house gets lots of email, and everyone spends a fair amount of time moving data on the net, in some fashion. I would guesstimate that my household bandwidth usage averages close to 200GB a month. I work at home and would be willing to pay a small premium to guarantee service delivery, but that isn’t in the cards yet, either.

Chances are that more ISPs will start capping Internet usage. Keep that possibility in mind as you begin to look at applications and services that will require you to have Internet access available to keep you in business.

The IE 8.0 beta can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/internet-explorer/beta/default.aspx. Chrome can be downloaded at  http://www.google.com/chrome. For measuring Internet use on a single computer, I use Netmeter, a freeware app that can be found at http://www.metal-machine.de/readerror.