From tomorrow's Wall Street Journal
Security, Cool Features
Of Firefox Web Browser
Beat Microsoft's IE
December 30, 2004
Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser is one of the most
important, and most often used, programs on the world's personal
computers, relied upon by more than 90% of Windows users. But
Microsoft hasn't made any important functional improvements in
Internet Explorer for years.
The software giant has folded IE into the Windows operating
system, and the browser only receives updates as part of the
"Windows update" process. In recent years, most upgrades to IE
have been under-the-hood patches to plug the many security holes
that have made IE a major conduit for hackers, virus writers and
spyware purveyors. The only visible feature added to IE
recently: a pop-up ad blocker, which arrived long after other
browsers had one.
Meanwhile, other people have been building much better browsers,
just as Microsoft itself did in the 1990s, when it challenged
and eventually bested the then-dominant browser, Netscape
Navigator. The most significant of these challengers is Firefox,
a free product of an open-source organization called Mozilla,
available for download at www.mozilla.org1. Firefox is both more
secure and more modern than IE, and it comes packed with user-
friendly features the Microsoft browser can't touch.
Firefox still has a tiny market share. But millions of people
have downloaded it recently. I've been using it for months, and
I recommended back in September that users switch to it from IE
as a security measure. It's available in nearly identical
versions for Windows, the Apple Macintosh, and the Linux
There are some other browsers that put IE to shame. Apple's
elegant Safari browser, included free on every Mac, is one. But
it isn't available for Windows. The Opera browser is loaded with
bells and whistles, but I find it pretty complicated. And
NetCaptor, my former favorite, is very nice. But since it's
based on the IE Web-browsing engine, it's vulnerable to most of
IE's security problems.
Firefox, which uses a different underlying browsing engine
called "Gecko," also has a couple of close cousins based on the
same engine. One is Netscape, now owned by America Online. The
other is a browser called Mozilla, from the same group that
created Firefox. But Firefox is smaller, sleeker and newer than
either of its relatives, although a new Netscape version is in
Firefox isn't totally secure -- no browser can be, especially if
it runs on Windows, which has major security problems and is the
world's top digital target. But Firefox has better security and
privacy than IE. One big reason is that it won't run programs
called "ActiveX controls," a Microsoft technology used in IE.
These programs are used for many good things, but they have
become such powerful tools for criminals and hackers that their
potential for harm outweighs their benefits.
Firefox also has easier, quicker and clearer methods than IE
does for covering your online tracks, if you so choose. And it
has a better built-in pop-up ad blocker than IE.
But my favorite aspect of Firefox is tabbed browsing, a Web-
surfing revolution that is shared by all the major new browsers
but is absent from IE. With tabbed browsing, you can open many
Web pages at once in the same browser window. Each is accessed
by a tab.
The benefits of tabbed browsing hit home when you create folders
of related bookmarks. For instance, on my computer I have a
folder of a dozen technology-news bookmarks and another 20 or so
bookmarks pointing to political Web sites. A third folder
contains 15 or so bookmarks for sites devoted to the World
Champion Boston Red Sox. With one click, I can open the entire
contents of these folders in tabs, in the same single window,
allowing me to survey entire fields of interest.
And Firefox can recognize and use Web sites that employ a new
technology called "RSS" to create and update summaries of their
contents. When Firefox encounters an RSS site, it displays a
special icon that allows you to create a "live" bookmark to the
site. These bookmarks then display updated headlines of stories
on the sites.
Firefox also includes a permanent, handy search box that can be
used to type in searches on Google, Yahoo, Amazon or other
search sites without installing a special toolbar.
And it has a cool feature called "Extensions." These are small
add-on modules, easy to download and install, that give the
browser new features. Among the extensions I use are one that
automatically fills out forms and another that tests the speed
of my Web connection. You can also download "themes," which
change the browser's looks.
There is only one significant downside to Firefox. Some Web
sites, especially financial ones, have chosen to tailor
themselves specifically for Internet Explorer. They rely on
features only present in IE, and either won't work or work
poorly in Firefox and other browsers.
Luckily, even if you switch to Firefox, you can still keep IE
around to view just these incompatible sites. (In fact,
Microsoft makes it impossible to fully uninstall IE.) There's
even an extension for Firefox that adds an option called "View
This Page in IE."
So Firefox is my current choice of a Windows Web browser. It is
to IE in 2004 what IE was to Netscape in 1996 -- the upstart
that does a better job.
Write to Walter S. Mossberg at firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: From tomorrow's Wall Street Journal
Very nice. Very reassuring.
Flatus Ohlfahrt wrote:
> Security, Cool Features
> Of Firefox Web Browser
> Beat Microsoft's IE
> December 30, 2004
> Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser is one of the most
> important, and most often used, programs on the world's personal
> computers, relied upon by more than 90% of Windows users. But
> Microsoft hasn't made any important functional improvements in
> Internet Explorer for years.
Re: From tomorrow's Wall Street Journal
Once upon a time *GK* wrote:
> Very nice. Very reassuring.
Yes it is. But as a Mozilla Suit fan I don't like the total focus in
Firefox only. Even in this article, where it says:
/But Firefox is smaller, sleeker and newer than either of its
relatives, although a new Netscape version is in the works./
Of cause its 'smaller and sleeker', since there is no mail app built
in! The article don't mention that Mozilla and Netscpae have that. If
you have Firefox, you must have a separarate mail app. and the total
'weight' of e.g. Ff and Tb is just as much as Mozilla Suit.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything and the
young know everything. (Oscar Wilde)
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