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The Firefox in Microsoft’s coop




About 90 per cent of all PC users are on Windows, and almost 100 per cent of Windows users are using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to surf the Web. And why not? It’s a good program, it’s familiar, and it works intuitively without a lot of extra plug-ins and downloads.

There have been a few security flaws, and you have to get extra software running to block pop-up windows and unwanted spyware downloads. It’s not the fastest either, with both Mozilla and Apple Safari browsers offering faster load speeds. Still, IE is the real standard against which all other browsers will always be judged, getting A’s in most categories and a few B’s here and there.

That’s why if you wanted to get the average user to switch from Explorer to one of the alternatives – downloading the software, reworking the toolbars and favourties, changing all of their preferences and shortcuts – you would have to give them an extremely compelling reason.

Enter Mozilla Firefox 1.0, the direct descendent of the once popular Netscape Navigator line of browsers that were all the rage about a decade ago. After two years of work the first non-beta of this program was released on Tuesday, to the praise of Internet geeks everywhere.

It’s faster than IE and easy to use, but also offers a wide range of powerful new tools and gadgets for the most hardcore Web surfers – examples include automatic updates to the browser and plug-ins, easy bookmarking, live bookmarks, programmable pop-up window blocking, control of your history pages, an easy way to find saved passwords, a permissions system that automatically allows pre-approved sites to install software on your system, the ability to turn Java on and off without restarting, and so on.

Firefox’s online fraud protection measures are also solid, letting you know whether you’re visiting a certified page, or when a Web site is secure enough to share personal information or credit card numbers.

You can also create a list of browser shortcuts using your Bookmarks section. For example if you want to pay bills at your bank, you can set up Firefox so that when you type the letter ‘b’ into the Location bar, it will take you to your bank account. That takes care of the space issue when you’re deciding which of your favourites you want in your toolbar. This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Serious users are going to want to download the instruction manual from the Web site to get a full idea of what this program is capable of.

On top of functionality, what Firefox does best is provide a degree of protection against viruses and spyware, and so far the program appears to be extremely secure. It has been recommended by tech savvy writers at a number of publications for a variety of reasons. The U.S. Computer Readiness Team, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, recommended Firefox on the basis of recent security holes in Internet Explorer. You can’t buy that kind of endorsement.