If you haven't heard of Firefox
by now, you've been living in a virtual cave. Besides being blogged from here to kingdom come (including on Goodacre's popular NT blog), this popular free software has earned news articles in USA Today, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. This month there will be a full-page ad in the New York Times. Since its 1.0 release last month, people have been watching the downloads climb to the ten million mark. It has been less than a month, and there are just a few hundred thousand downloads until ten million. I am writing this blog entry to inform you about what Firefox has to offer, in the hopes that you will try it out.
What is Firefox? Firefox is a browser. Microsoft has a browser called "Internet Explorer," which you can recognize from the blue "E" icon, either on your desktop or near the start button (on a PC). But there are problems with Microsoft's browser. For example, pop-ups for ads and for installing software that you didn't choose to download (usually a spyware or adware program, which is bad). Firefox comes with a built-in popup blocker, and it won't let you download programs unless you choose to download them. Further, hundreds of security holes have been found in Internet Explorer that have caused millions of people to get viruses on their PCs. Microsoft does release patches, but this often takes as much as 6 months, and new holes are found all the time. By contrast, nobody has ever found a security hole in Firefox to exploit (there is a $500 reward for anyone who can spot one). Also, for users who haven't bought Windows XP, you can no longer get updates for "Internet Explorer": Microsoft has announced that their current service pack and any future upgrades to the browser will only work on Windows XP (not 2000/ME/98/95/NT). Furthermore, "Internet Explorer" is weaved into the Windows operating system, and this creates problems when the program crashes; it is for this reason that a friend of mine calls it "Internet Exploder." On the other hand, Firefox is a regular program just for surfing the web, and I've not heard any reports of it crashing. Finally, Firefox has a lot of cool things about it that "Internet Explorer" just doesn't have.
Just to take one example: you are reading a blog. Perhaps you use a blog aggregator such as Bloglines. But did you know about "Live Bookmarks"? With this feature, when you come upon a web page that is a blog (or otherwise has an RSS feed), you can click a button at the bottom of the browser window to make this blog a live bookmark. The blog will then reside in a toolbar at the top of the screen. Just click on that live bookmark, and you get a list of all the latest entries in that blog. See:
Of course, you can also put regular bookmarks in that one-click toolbar.
Tabbed browsing lets you open up multiple web pages within a single browser window. This can save room on your list of open applications at the bottom of your computer screen. But there are other uses too: you can make bookmarks for all the web pages in their various tabs at once, and you can open a folder of bookmarks into various tabs. You can use multiple homepages when you open the browser. Or you could keep the search engine results page in one tab while browsing the various links in the other tabs.
Firefox also has "skins" and "extensions." Skins let you adjust the appearance of your browser in hundreds of ways. Extensions are small programs (scripts really) that can add new functionality to your Firefox web browser. For example, you can add an extension to fill in your name, postal address, e-mail address, and phone number automatically on an order form. There is a very powerful extension for web designers that lets you do things such as disable images or cookies, resize the browser, or validate your HTML with a simple click. You can get these skins and extensions from the official Mozilla Firefox webpage
There are also a number of small conveniences that add up. Tests have shown that Firefox downloads and displays web pages faster than Internet Explorer. Further, there is always a search box to the right of your address bar, which contains search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Amazon. You can add other search engines. It allows you to click in that textbox and search, no matter where you are on the web. And when you are searching within a page of a site, you don't have to do the rigamarole of "Edit menu, find in this page, type in a phrase, get no result, type in a different phrase, etc." If you want to search within a page, a textbox appears in the bottom bar of the browser. As you type your phrase, Firefox will find the first thing that matches. Once you've typed something that doesn't match, the textbox will change color to show this. Simply use the backspace and then type something else.
And the best endorsement of Firefox? My mom was able to start using it without any trouble.
So download Firefox
and give it a try. You don't have to stop using Microsoft IE (though you may just want to!); Firefox is just a small application that gives you a newer, better option for surfing the web. Besides, it's a small download (less than 5 MB) and completely free. So download your copy and be part of the historic first ten million downloads of the best way to browse the web!