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January 2005

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Firefox: A Good Replacement for Internet Explorer

by Glen Emerson Morris

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It has been estimated that if all the profit and loss statements ever made in the airline industry were combined, the airline industry would show a net loss. If can't be proven, but it's possible that if the cumulative income of Microsoft were balanced against the economic value of all the time people have wasted with crashed, misbehaving or virus infected Windows machines, the result would also show a net loss. If it's not true now, it may be by the end of 2005.

In the fall of 2004, the technology columnist for Business Week, Stephen H. Wildstrom, advised readers that Internet Explorer had proven so vulnerable to viruses and other malicious attacks that it, if possible, was time to find an alternate to it. He admitted at the time that there was no immediate viable candidate to replace IE, but the recent release of Firefox has changed that. Firefox is very much an improvement over IE, and anyone who can adopt it should, and as soon as possible for several reasons.

The main reason for switching to Firefox is security. The year 2005 promises to be worst year for malicious software attacks in history. Internet Explorer will be a primary target of the attacks, in part because it's the most prevalent browser, but also because it's considerably more vulnerable to attack than Netscape and other browsers.

The problem with IE dates to the browser wars Microsoft fought with Netscape in the middle to late 1990's. To gain an advantage Netscape couldn't match Microsoft integrated Internet Explorer at a very deep level with the Windows operating system. Microsoft also bundled IE with its operating system, and this strategy gained Microsoft significant market share which Microsoft exploited in a variety of ways

To Microsoft, IE wasn't just a tool computer users used to surf the Inter net, IE was a new revenue stream. Microsoft found companies that would pay to have Microsoft include a link to their company's Website preloaded in the IE browser. IE browsers were also programmed to allow significant customization or branding by third parties, like telecoms, that provided customers with dial-up and broadband Internet access. Companies like Comcast and SBCGlobal were able to provide customers an IE browser that prominently featured their logo, and steered users toward preferred locations.

In contrast, Firefox was developed by the Mozilla organization, which is dedicated to preserving choice and innovation on the Internet. Firefox was programmed primarily by volunteers using open source software (meaning the complete code for Firefox is freely available for anyone to analyze and modify, provided they observe the open source licensing provisions).

Microsoft has made Firefox's open source origins a major argument not to use it on the grounds that Firefox users will not know who wrote the software they are using. However, this is really not a valid point. It's far more important to be able to examine a program's code than to know those who wrote it. This point was well made by the development of the open source operating system Linux, which has proven far less vulnerable to hackers than the Windows operating system. Public scrutiny of the Linux's code led to suggestions that made it a highly secure operating system. In addition, once a vulnerability was detected, any programmer in the Linux community could program a fix for the problem and post it on the Internet for the entire Linux community to download. It takes Microsoft up to 30 days to fix and distribute a major fix to the Windows operating system once it is detected. In the Linux world, major problems are frequently fixed in less than 24 hours. This will likely be true for Firefox, for the same reasons.

Firefox takes a different approach than IE on several fronts. Firefox is a very lean browser that initially installs only the bare minimum features necessary to surf the Web. Anyone wanting more features has the option of installing extensions which add a variety of extra features including news streamers, weather forecasts, automatic form fillers, clipboard copiers and many additional features.

While a minimalist by nature, Firefox does have features IE doesn't, including a download manager (standard equipment with Apple's Safari browser), and a provision for easy offline Website viewing. Firefox is also generally regarded as easier to use than IE. Firefox's Interface is simple and highly intuitive.

Most importantly, Firefox doesn't provide easy access to the Windows operating system, so it will be far more difficult for hackers to use Firefox for a number of increasingly common malicious purposes.

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to using Firefox. Some Websites, especially those developed with Microsoft's .NET programming environment, don't support any browsers other than IE. In addition, most Websites were not designed or tested for use with Firefox, so occasionally there are draw problems that make some Websites hard to read. The draw problems are usually minor, but they are annoying. In recognition of this issue, Firefox includes a feature that launches IE when one of those Websites is encountered.

The best way to see if Firefox will meet your needs is to download it and use it to visit the Websites you usually do and see how it works. Firefox can be downloaded free from and as is available for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

At the very least, Firefox will probably result in a much improved Internet Explorer. Microsoft dedicated significant resources to developing a browser competitive to Netscape, but once Microsoft won the browser war, the improvements to IE became few and far between. Competition from Firefox will put Microsoft on the defensive again, and that will be good for IE users.

More likely, Firefox will gain wide acceptance in a very short period of time. Firefox is a major improvement in safety and performance over IE, and given how virus attacks are increasing on the Internet, it couldn't come at a better time.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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