Test drive: Firefox enhancements make IE look like an 'artifact'

This tip originally appeared on SearchWinSystems.com, a sister site of SearchSMB.com.

The Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser, which competes head-to-head with Microsoft's Internet Explorer

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(IE), recently received another revision.

I had the opportunity to test Firefox (the latest version is 1.0.1) and compare it to IE. My initial impression: It makes IE look every inch the old, static artifact it has become. (You can download Firefox free from www.mozilla.org.)

Firefox overall is relatively user-friendly and intuitive, with probably the most minimal learning curve imaginable. In addition, the Linux and Mac OS X versions are functionally identical to those on Windows, making Firefox an excellent cross-platform solution.

Firefox has a streamlined interface and wealth of navigational aids. Yet IE has two advantages over Firefox: IE comes preinstalled on Windows systems, so most users are familiar with it, and many Web sites and enterprise applications are coded specifically for IE as opposed to Web standards.

Friendly features include handy Find command

The first thing I noticed after I launched Firefox was its clean, uncluttered interface and familiar Web navigation icons. Digging deeper, you will find that Firefox includes such useful features as the tabbed browsing capabilities also found in Opera Software ASA's Opera; Apple Computer Inc.'s Safari; and Firefox's browser cousin, Mozilla.

Firefox's pop-up blocking features worked well in tests, providing feedback in a small status bar when a pop-up was blocked and making it possible to quickly unblock a site from which I might actually wish to get pop-ups. I personally liked Firefox's find-in-page features, which are the best I've seen in any browser. Rather than launching a separate window for the Find command, as most browsers do, a small tab bar is launched at the bottom of Firefox. I thought this was a much more user-friendly method.

When I went to a Web site that required a plug-in I didn't have, a bar appeared at the top of the browser stating that additional plug-ins were required. When I clicked the Install Missing Plugins button, Firefox found the needed plug-in and walked me through installation.

Firefox does a good job of easing the transition from IE, including a For Internet Explorer Users choice in the help menu that breaks down the differences between the two browsers and helps with migration.

Nevertheless, that won't help on sites that work only with IE. There are sites that still do not work well with the Firefox browser. This is because developers often use IE-specific features to provide rich application behavior rather than using standards-based methods to achieve the same behaviors. The problem is also common in Web-based administration tools for enterprise hardware.

Security on your mind?

Honestly, Firefox is not immune to viruses and security problems and, in fact, has had some of its own. They were all quickly identified and fixed, though.

All browsers will have some kind of security vulnerabilities, but the main belief out there in the open source community is that until Microsoft stops tying IE so tightly into Windows, alternative browsers will provide better security.

I don't know about you, but I am taking serious steps in testing and integrating Firefox in the enterprise.

Paul Teodorescu is president and lead systems engineer of Carpe Diem Consulting Inc., a technology firm that specializes in desktop integration and standardization. He can be reached at pteodore@ptd.net.

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This was first published in April 2006

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