Firefox 1.0 � the review!

by Joe Gillespie — Dec 1, 2004

Yes, the fans of Firefox have certainly been working hard and have managed to persuade some seven and a half million surfers to download it onto their computers. No mean feat! But, with all the hype, how good is it really? Even with seven and a half million downloads, its impact on Explorer's dominance is only a pin prick. Does it stand a chance?

Recent browser surveys show that in the last few months, IE has been losing market share to Gecko-based browsers – Mozilla, Firefox and Camino. Statistics can vary widely depending on the readership profiles of the sites compiling them, but they all seem to agree the IE is on its way down.

Firefox is the grand daughter of Netscape; once upon a time, the leading browser for the Web. When Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer and bundled it with every copy of Windows, Netscape, which originally charged for the browser, was doomed. Netscape, the company, managed to survive by selling their server-side products but the browser quickly lost market share and its installed base withered. Even AOL, who eventually took over Netscape, continued to ship Explorer as their preferred browser.

The non-profit Mozilla Foundation eventually adopted Netscape, the browser, and a group of stalwart volunteers continued to develop it. The Mozilla browser is an open source developer project and not a mass-market product but the core and spirit of Mozilla gave birth to Firebird, later renamed Firefox for legal reasons. Here is the story of the origins so I don't have to repeat it all here.

Anyway, Firefox has a lot to offer over Explorer. It has a search box in the toolbar, a pop-up ad blocker and a built-in RSS news feed facility to give the constant news updates published by certain sites. It doesn't suffer from the same security problems that continue to plague Explorer, as it is not tied into the Windows scripting/email/address book system. Most of all, it's W3C standards compliant, which Explorer may never be. Firefox is, arguably, the most advanced mass market browser available today.

On the downside, some sites that use proprietary Microsoft technology will just not work properly with Firefox - or most other non-Microsoft browsers for that matter. If you depend on these sites for your banking, or whatever, then you will have to use Explorer and put up with the security issues.

Now, I have a confession to make. I don't use Firefox myself – except for testing sites. I prefer Mozilla. Firefox is a little too unMac-like for my taste and none of the current batch of OSX 'themes' does anything for me. Cosmetic, perhaps, but Mac users are spoiled for choice as far as browsers are concerned. There's Safari, from Apple, with a significant following that's unlikely to switch to Firefox in any great number. There's also Camino, a close cousin of Firefox, also from the Mozilla gang. I know people who much prefer Camino to either Firefox or Safari. There are also OmniWeb and Opera, other fine browsers. Many Mac users who are still using OS 9.x will still be using Explorer 5.x because there are currently no up-to-date alternatives.

For Windows users, there's not such a great choice. Firefox is a compelling alternative to Explorer and there are few reasons why they shouldn't use it as their primary browser and benefit from the extra features and security. Linux users are probably all using it already, except for those who prefer Mozilla or Opera.

If you are a Web designer, there's no question, you just have to have Firefox. Apart from being the #2 browser, it has a JavaScript console to help debug your JavaScript and a host of extensions like the Web Developer Toolbar, now at version 0.9 - which is more than just nice-to-have – it's absolutely essential!

I do hope that the current enthusiasm and momentum for Firefox continues. As Explorer continues to languish in its state of Microsoftness and people find out that there is a better alternative, it really does deserve to succeed.


features bar 95%
Ease of Use
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Value for Money
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'Must Have' Factor
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Mozilla Foundation
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