By Trevor Zion Bauknight
The Mozilla folks, with apologies to the Monty Python gang, aren’t quite dead yet. They feel happy. They think they’ll go for a walk.
What they’ve done is take advantage of the frustration many people (particularly Windows users) are feeling with the condition of their web browsing experience by releasing Firefox 1.0, a lightweight new browser based on years of redevelopment since Netscape’s open-sourcing of Communicator in 1998.
Problems with spyware, pop-up ads, security flaws, indifference and downright hostility to standards-compliant behavior have made Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser one of the most widely reviled pieces of software ever. Of course, the fact that it’s bolted tightly onto the Windows operating system that runs some 90% of the world’s personal computers means that hundreds of millïons of people worldwide use it regularly anyway.
While that isn’t likely to change anytime soon, assuming Microsoft continues to develop MSIE as a component of Windows (standalone development has ceased), competitors are beginning to reclaim some of the web-browsing market they lost when Microsoft decided to give away its browser for frëe with the OS. Firefox’s developers are hoping to reach 10% of the browser market eventually, and even that is a tall order.
But they have the product to do that and more. Firefox is brilliant work from the moment you double-click on its installer. Some eight million people downloaded prevïew versions of Firefox in the months leading up to the 1.0 release, and their feedback helped refine the browser into a very slick package indeed.
After Firefox is installed, the first thing it lets you do is import your bookmarks and preferences from a variety of other browsers, most importantly MSIE. Gone are the dreaded days of reassembling all that meticulously put-together information and trudging through endless preference panels just to try out a browser.
The underlying technology is worth mentioning: Firefox is based around Gecko, the next-generation webpage rendering engine built from the ground up for efficiency and standards-compliance by the Mozilla developers and insecure ActiveX controls are eschewed in favor of Javascrïpt and a cross-platform user-interface language called XUL.
But the real beauty is readily evident to everyone. Some of its features, like tabbed browsing, aren’t new; but Firefox represents the best collection of features versus “feeping creaturism” I’ve seen since my jaw first dropped in 1993 when I saw a graphical World Wide Web for the first time.
Tabbed browsing is remarkable, and will revolutionize the way you browse the web. It enables you to open numerous websites simultaneously and switch between them by simply clicking on the familiar tabbed interface.
Working at CafeID.com, for example, I can open a tab with our Webmail interface by itself and monitor that constantly while I maintain our website in another tab, handle web-based live support in a third and keep up with affiliates in a fourth! I like to keep my tab-bar visible at all times (even in the rare instances when I only have one site open) just because it’s so easy to right-click and open a new tab to see another site without losing your place on the first one.
Live Bookmarks represents a step forward in keeping up with the rapidly-changing nature of today’s Web, with all its content-driven blogs and news sites. Live Bookmarks makes receiving RSS-syndicated feeds a snap, eliminating the need for a separate aggregator program.
Popup Blocking is central to Firefox, and not an afterthought or an aftermarket accessory as it is on the MSIE side. Google search is built right into the toolbar, as well…no need to add that capability. And what’s not included in Firefox can probably be added. A whole raft of extensions is already available for downloading.
Speaking of downloading, Firefox weighs in at only about 4.5 megabytes, making it a manageable download even on a dialup connection. There’s no reason not to give it a shot, and we think you’ll nevër willingly go back to MSIE once you’ve been reminded or possibly seen for the first time how good web browsing can be.
Firefox is solid and secure, earning hearty recommendations from CERT (the Computer Emergency Response Team – heavyweights in the world of computer security), the Wall Street Journal, which recommended dumping IE altogether and many others. We unreservedly add our own recommendation to the list of them, and hope you’ll do yourself a favor and help take back the Web.
Firefox can be downloaded at www.mozilla.org. While you’re there, you might want to take a look at Thunderbird, an excellent Mail/Groupware client similar to Microsoft’s Outlook, also based on Mozilla.
About The Author
Trevor Bauknight is a web designer and writer with over 15 years of experience on the Internet. He specializes in the creation and maintenance of business and personal identity online and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stop by CafeID.com for a frëe tryout of the revolutionary SiteBuildingSystem and checkout our Flash-based website and IMAP e-mail hostïng solutions, complete with live support.
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