Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Firefox Shakes Up The Net

Like most Internet users, I had never given much thought to the browser I surfed with. I was perfectly happy with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. It’s just a browser, right? All it needs to do is display websites for me. But recent Internet Explorer security scares made me think twice about this. I switched to Mozilla’s Firefox, and haven’t looked back.

Firefox is an Internet browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation, a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to developing open source software. Released on November 9, 2004, it has proven to be a popular alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Firefox offers many features that make it superior to Internet Explorer – added security is perhaps the most important. Explorer is tightly integrated with the Windows operating system. The browser has vulnerabilities that allow outsiders to get access to your computer. Firefox, designed with security in mind, features a comprehensive set of privacy tools. For example, most spyware is blocked because Firefox does not load harmful ActiveX controls.

But there are many other great features to this browser. Firefox offers a brilliant innovation in surfing called “tabbed browsing.” This allows you to display several web pages in a single window, which you can switch back and forth between by clicking on tabs. There are also many extensions available for download. These include everything from toolbar buttons to a Homeland Security monitor that keeps users aware of current threat levels. A pop-up blocker comes built in. While a pop-up ad will still get through every now and then, it is still better than the buggy third-party software you have to use with Explorer. Firefox makes downloading files over the Net easy since it automatically saves them to your desktop (you can change this setting if you want). No more hunting for the buried folder Explorer randomly chose to save your file in. Finally, Firefox is open source, so any programmer can examine and improve it. According to Mozilla director of engineering Chris Hofmann, “Open source projects have a much higher standard. It’s the engineers that actually build the software that label when it’s done.”

As of this writing, more than 50 million people have downloaded Firefox or its updates. The browser is slowly eating away at Internet Explorer’s dominance. According to, the proportion of surfers using Explorer has dropped to below 90%. As Mozilla Foundation president Mitchell Baker puts it, “People had come to think that browsers didn't matter, but if you have a better one, the whole way you browse the Web is more pleasant.”

Switching is quick, easy, and (best of all) free at Firefox's website. Firefox even imports your bookmarks, your history, and your passwords from Internet Explorer. Try it. I promise you won’t ever use Explorer again. fb

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