Tuesday, May 23

Review: Mozilla Firefox

What software do you use to browse the World Wide Web? These days, too may Windows users don't know the answer to that question. Neither do they know that there's a much better program than the one they probably employ; the free Mozilla Firefox browser.

Most people using Windows view Web pages with Microsoft's Internet Explorer because it comes along with the operating system. The browsers that are packaged with AOL and MSN Internet access are really just thinly-disguised copies of IE, so subscribers to those ISPs are probably using it even though they're not aware of it. The 80% share of the Web-browsing market that IE holds is mostly due to the fact that many Internet users are not even aware that they have a choice. And if IE users knew the problems with their implicit choice, they would certainly choose another piece of software.

Enter Mozilla's Firefox browser. Firefox is a much more secure browsing environment than Internet Explorer; most spam and spyware make their way on to a Windows PC because of security problems with IE. (Ever since I set up my in-laws' computers with Firefox, the amount of spyware infection they incur has been down almost 100%. I'm pretty sure the reason I have to say "almost" is because of an attempt to download and try out the new beta version of IE.)

Everybody who wants to view pages and sites on the Web should use Firefox. In addition to its much greater level of security, Firefox also is better at using the standards of the Internet to display content in exactly the way that the people who write Web pages intend you to see them. My main personal reasons for using Firefox are two-fold: portability and extensibility.

Firstly, I use Firefox because it is portable. It works in (nearly) exactly the same manner whether you run it on Windows, Macintosh OSX, or the many flavors of Linux. This means that I can browse the Web in the same way, with the same interface, no matter what computer I happen to be using. Since I use both Mac and Windows, this is a big deal.

In addition, I use Firefox because I can customize it to work exactly how I want. It works perfectly fine if you just download, install, and use it "out-of-the-box," but the ability to install extensions is really cool. Extensions can do things like add toolbar buttons with interesting features or automatically change the size of the text on Web pages you visit (I've got a really high-resolution screen and the words can come out pretty small, so enlarging all text makes things much easier on my eyes).

The most important Firefox feature, however, is the high security I mentioned above. When malicious hackers find minor flaws in Firefox (like they do in every piece of software), the holes are quickly patched and updates are automatically installed on every version of Firefox higher than 1.5. Since it's free, there's no reason not to go try it out and set it as your computer's default browser!

Version reviewed:
Price: free
License: Mozilla EULA
Web location: Mozilla Firefox
Download size: Win - 5MB, Mac - 16MB, Linux - 8MB


Richard Smith said...

HI Brad,

I'm curious about your view of the IE beta you mentioned. I just removed firefox and am using the new beta. The tabb ed browsing seems a bit more sophisticated than firefox but it is also seems slower. How did you find the security?

Brad said...


I haven't used the IE beta myself (I never have occasion to browse the Web on a Windows PC these days). However, the tech guys that I trust all basically have said that they like the spiffy new interface but that it's the same insecure browsing engine underneath.

However, there is a terrific episode of Security Now that describes a system for locking down IE so you can use it to browse securely. I think it's probably too much trouble, though... just use Firefox.

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The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.