Mozilla Firefox - Battle of the Browsers
Article by Rick Leinecker, March 20, 2006

I'm a Microsoft diehard. I love Microsoft and their products. It may be because I've gone to insider summits for the last ten years where I was treated royally. But then again it may be because this software giant's products are solid.

Nonetheless, even I can jump ship given a compelling reason. And that's the case with the introduction of a competing web browser named Mozilla Firefox, or just Firefox. It is superior to Internet Explorer in almost every way, and I highly recommend it. It's not funded, and is therefore an underdog in the world of software. It's kind of like David in the land of Goliath.

Firefox successfully slugs it out with the giant. For starters, Firefox is more secure than Internet Explorer. The two main things that make Firefox safer are its cautious approach to ActiveX controls and its ability to control rogue scripts. ActiveX controls can be dangerous because users can accidentally allow them to be installed, after which they could do serious damage to your computer. Rogue scripts aren't as potentially dangerous as ActiveX controls, but they can still be annoying.

Just to clarify, ActiveX controls are installed with your consent. When you go to some web pages, a dialog may appear saying that a component needs to be installed. If you say yes, then you just gave your permission, and an ActiveX control will be installed. For reputable companies such as Adobe and Macromedia it's not a problem. But for a company you don't know such as Flesh Gordon's House of Pleasure, you'd better forget it. ActiveX controls can perform virtually any function on your computer once installed, including deleting files and altering important system files.

ActiveX controls and scripts give useful functionality to some web sites. Many web sites use these mechanisms in a positive and valuable way, with no intention to harm your computer. Their goal is to provide the richest web experience possible. Firefox won't work properly on these web sites. A good example of a great site that won't work with Firefox is TrendMicro's free online security scan that relies on ActiveX technology to provide functionality. I even recommended using this web site several weeks ago.

Here's how I get the best of both worlds. I have Internet Explorer and Firefox installed on my computers at home and on the computers in the lab. Most of the time I use Firefox for web browsing. But for web sites that don't work properly with Firefox, I use Internet Explorer. Of course, accessing sites with Internet Explorer assumes that I trust those sites. For instance, when I use TrendMicro's free online scan, I unhesitatingly use Internet Explorer since the site needs the ActiveX technology and I trust the company.

Firefox can block those pesky popups, too. Yes, Internet Explorer recently added that feature, but Firefox has had this feature longer and does it better.

Besides the stronger security, Firefox outperforms Internet Explorer. It's smaller so it loads faster and takes up less memory. It also renders web sites faster so your browsing experience is more enjoyable.

Firefox also allows you to open multiple pages. Of course Internet Explorer lets you do this, too. But to open multiple pages in Internet Explorer requires you to open multiple instances of the browser, while Firefox uses multiple tabs within the same browser instance. It's much easier since a single click lets you jump from page to page. Once you use this, you'll love it.

One very nice feature that Firefox provides is a download manager. This makes it easy and convenient to download and use files.

The development of Firefox is an American success story. Two guys, Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross, are the main developers (although there are hundreds of others who have made smaller contributions). These two took the original Mozilla open source browser and created their idea of the perfect browser.

Since Firefox is free, Hyatt and Ross didn't get rich from it. But you can bet that they are in high demand as Internet programming consultants. And that breed usually makes more than $200 per hour.

Firefox was used on about five percent of all PCs in 2003. From there it's grown to more than 25 percent in 2006. You have to know that Microsoft is feeling the pain. Like I said, it's a David and Goliath story. It's also one of those heartwarming stories similar to Jobs and Wozniak who started Apple computer in a garage.

It's good news that Firefox is free. It's easy to get and install. Start by going to http://www.mozilla.com/. Click on the "Download Firefox" button. Then go through the normal procedure for downloading and installing software.

I'm giving two free introductory seminars on computer security at Rockingham Community College. They are on April 19th from 3PM-5PM and May 9th from 6PM-8PM. There's a cap on attendance, so if you're interested, contact us right away. To sign up for the seminars call Kathy Martin at 342-4261, extension 2107; or email her at martink@rockinghamcc.edu.

That's the lowdown on the web browser wars.