If you're a PC user, you've perhaps been curious about the different options available for browsing the internet other than Internet Explorer, or I.E. for short. After all, who said that the best software always has to be the one that comes with your OS? I remember a few years ago when my quest to find the best browser started, after finding a hidden file where it seemed as if Windows had kept a record of all websites I had ever visited. (This site has more information on that subject.) In addition, I wanted a popup blocker, but for various reasons, I never liked any of the add-ons I tried.
So I downloaded Opera Software, version 7. Although I liked some of its features, such as browsing multiple tabbed pages in the same window, I found that they caused too much of a load on my PC's memory. I found that the "speed" that Opera claimed for its product really wasn't significantly faster than I.E., especially since after being open for a period of time, Opera slowed down quite a bit. After I did some research, I discovered several complaints online that the free version of Opera was spyware and generates ads based on browsing. I haven't tried newer versions of Opera, but suffice it to say that this software was not music to my ears.
My unsatisfactory experience with Opera, as well as some other browsers, ended my search for an alternative browser for a while. However, after downloading Mozilla's freestanding browser, Firefox, my search for the ultimate browser was put to an end. After 8 months of use, I haven't gone back to Internet Explorer. Firefox provides the fastest rendering of sites that I've seen in a browser, except perhaps using Safari on a Mac G5 (where a dual processor for sure makes some difference). With Firefox, Mozilla incorporated the two most important features in a browser: ease-of-use and speed, and speedy it is: tables and graphics rendered consistently faster on Firefox 0.8 compared to I.E., on both Windows '98 and XP with broadband.
Mozilla Firefox also has additional features that cemented my switch. With tabbed browsing, several websites can be kept open in the same window, keeping a dizzying array of websites appear orderly. Firefox solves the daunting problem in I.E. when titles are so scrunched on the toolbar, it is impossible to see their titles (unless, of course, you have window-stacking turned on in XP). Users can also effortlessly close a tab or window by pressing Ctrl + W. Some other quick keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl + T to create a new tab, and Ctrl + N to create a new window.
Another great innovation: Firefox has a popup blocker built in, saving time for faster rendering of the originating page. A small blue icon located in the lower-left corner will appear after any popup has been blocked; click on to have the option of unblocking the whole site. Also saving time while surfing, Firefox offers to save your username and password to any visited site. Although I wouldn't recommend auto-completion to sensitive sites like bank accounts, it is a convenient tool for those logins to weblogs, newspapers, or similar sites where security is not important. Sites that are auto-completed are accessible on the Privacy Tab in Options, so if your friend clumsily saved his username and password for Hotmail, it is easily removable.
Many find the Google Search Toolbar for I.E. a valuable tool, but with Firefox, the search toolbar is taken to a whole new level. By selecting "Add Engines," you are taken to mycroft.mozdev.org, a sister-site to Mozilla that lists hundreds of plugins available. Here I was able to download Google, Vivisimo, Ebay, Amazon Popular Music, and IMDB searches, all now available in the same search toolbar. Speaking of extensions, Mozilla also has plugins available for adblocking, blogging, emailing, sharing bookmarks between computers, viewing Flash, blocking Flash, and using RSS (news aggregation). Even a film script production extension and a calendar are available. The list of extensions is, to say the least, extensive.
Mozilla has seen great success, as measured by the number of people making the switch to Mozilla browsers. The number has more than doubled since 2003 to 10.7% of all net-surfers, and now surpasses Netscape users, according to W3 Schools. The number of people switching presents a challenge to web designers, as some sites have not updated their code to the W3C standards that Netscape 7.0 and Mozilla use. Suffice it to say, the sites that don't render correctly are few and far between. The upside in using Firefox is that it's a very robust program that rarely quits or freezes, a significant point if you tend to fiddle with programs (read: press many keys at once when the going is slow, rare with Firefox). With this kind of popularity, one could expect Microsoft to start incorporating some of Firefox's features into the next version of I.E., but with such a dynamite freeware program and the joy of supporting the open source community that is Mozilla, don't expect many to be switching back to I.E. anytime soon.
Download Information: Mozilla.org
Published on May 25, 2004