in the Microsoft browser chicken coop
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
Business in Vancouver January 31-February
6, 2006; issue 849
High Tech Office column;
005 was the year that an open-source
software project made major inroads into at least one area of the Microsoft
hegemony. Having decisively trounced rival Web browser Netscape
in the late 1990s, since the 2001 release of Internet Explorer 6,
Microsoft hasn't paid much attention to its market-dominating Web
In November 2004, the open source Mozilla
officially released the Firefox browser. While related to
earlier Netscape and Mozilla browsers, Firefox was built from scratch.
left out the e-mail software, chat, Web page development and other
features built into older browsers, making for a smaller download and
better performance. (Other Mozilla-related projects offer separate
programs for e-mail, calendar, Web page development and more.)
avoids Internet Explorer's insecure Active X plug-ins (though this
renders it incapable of working with such Active X-based websites as
Microsoft's Windows Update and some e-business sites). It also offers
built-in pop-up blocking.
features such as tabbed browsing make it possible to simultaneously
visit multiple websites without cluttering the screen. A built-in
search field defaults to Google but also allows a user to
quickly search using a variety of alternative sites. Support for
extensions and themes has encouraged development of hundreds of add-ins
that offer optional enhancements and eye candy.
Available free with versions for
and Mac OS X, over 100 million copies of Firefox were downloaded in
2005. By the end of the year, Firefox accounted for an estimated 10 to
15 per cent of Web traffic and is now being pre-installed by Dell
on systems sold in the U.K. and Australia. Late in 2005, the Mozilla
folks released version 1.5, the first major upgrade to Firefox.
the most important enhancement in the new version is auto-updates. To
update earlier versions, users had to download an entire new copy of
Firefox and replace the older installation.
1.5 looks for upgrades in the background, quietly downloading just
what's needed to keep itself up to date. A one-click Clear Personal
Data option is handy, quickly clearing out the browser history, cache
and cookies. The new version supports more cutting-edge Web standards,
while still avoiding the insecure Active X.
you really need to access an IE-specific website, check the optional IE
Tab extension, which uses Internet Explorer to load the problematic Web
page onto a Firefox tab. Very slick.)
update seems to load even complex Web pages faster than earlier
versions. Clicking the Back button displays previous pages almost
1.5 breaks some older Firefox extensions. When it loads for the first
time it looks for updates to any incompatible extensions and themes and
turns off any that can't be updated.
of my favourite extensions: Tab X, Colorful Tabs and Tabbrowser
Preferences to improve on Firefox's tab browsing; FireFTP to make
Firefox do double-duty transferring files to websites and other
locations; and AdBlock, which does just what you'd expect.
As Firefox's user-base has grown,
reports of its vulnerabilities have also increased.
open source community has been quick to respond to these security
holes, and version 1.5's improved abilities make it more likely that
users of the new version will stay up-to-date.
reports suggest that adoption of Firefox is slowing. (I guess the first
100 million are the easiest!) While it may be getting harder to make
inroads into the many millions of users for whom Internet Explorer's
pre-installed blue 'e' icon stands for the Internet, Business Week
reported that 2005 was the year when open source alternatives,
including Firefox, "finally gained traction in corporate America."
If nothing else, the success of
Firefox has woken Microsoft from of its browser lethargy.
The company has begun beta-testing a
new Internet Explorer 7, with Firefox-like tabbed browsing and other
gets my nomination for most important software product of 2005. If you
haven't already tried it out, download a copy. And if you're running an
older version, get the new version 1.5 now.