Mozilla Firefox 1 [PC Pro]
COMPANY: Mozilla PRICE: Free
RATING: ISSUE: 124 DATE: Feb 05
Verdict: Tabbed browsing, speedy rendering and the ability to add in only the features you need make Firefox our browser of choice.
Firefox is a welcome release in a browser market dominated by Microsoft
's Internet Explorer, whose idea of being standards-compliant is to force proprietary features onto users by way of market share. Happily, Firefox is also an incredibly good product. Born from the ashes of Netscape after the source code was thrown into the open-source community in 1998, and built around the Mozilla Gecko rendering engine, Firefox has finally emerged from two years of beta testing to become the people's browser. This open-source, community-led approach to development has been key to the success of Firefox in nibbling away at the Microsoft
browser market share - but is the finished Firefox a real-world IE alternative?
Anyone who's ever needed to open more than one website at the same time will know all about the limitations of IE in this regard, namely the spawning of multiple instances of itself. With one occurrence of the browser for every web page you want open, you'll need plenty of screen estate, although that's the least of your worries, as you'll also need plenty of system resources to cope with the onslaught. Firefox has no such limitations because it implements an MDI (Multiple Document Interface) that lets you open as many web-page windows as you like without ever leaving that solitary browser occurrence. It does this using a tabbed interface similar to the type that can be found on sites such as Amazon - so if you've not used tabbed MDI browsing before, you'll be in for a productivity-boosting treat. And it's not the only usability treat in store either. As well as the now obligatory (but well implemented) pop-up blocker, there's also a Find feature that sits in a bar at the bottom of the main window and starts progressively matching text on the current page as soon as you start inputting keywords.
For RSS newsfeed lovers, an RSS auto-discover function brings native RSS and ATOM reading right into the browser itself by way of 'live bookmarks' - just click on an RSS bookmark entry and the appropriate article is displayed. If all that wasn't enough, add the Google search toolbar feature. As befits Firefox's flexibility, it's not just the ordinary IE Google toolbar either. As well as searching Google, you can search numerous other search engines by way of a drop-down menu. Indeed, just use the 'add engine' feature and customise the list to suit your geographical and personal needs.
The real ace for Firefox, though, has always been the use of extensions, browser plug-ins and helper objects, which add just the specific features you want. This is fundamentally different to the bloated 'all you can eat' approach of IE where you can end up stuck with functions you don't want and never use. Extensions are the reason why Firefox can be so lightweight in footprint terms, but such a heavyweight when it comes to usability. You can literally build the browser you want using extensions as they're sorted by category at the update site, where they can be downloaded for free. Every aspect is covered, from appearance to security and privacy with much in-between. Not everything is rosy in the extensions garden though, as version compatibility has always been a thorn in the side of their users. Since Firefox has been under constant development, with often quite important differences in code between beta releases, it can take a week or two for the developers of extensions to catch up. And because extensions are generally free of charge, some developers have stopped trying to keep up altogether. For new users it isn't a problem, because by default the extensions download page will detect your browser version and only show you those that are compatible. Those moving on from previous betas will find that incompatible extensions are automatically disabled during installation, and the first time Firefox is executed an update check is made and new versions installed where possible.
So, Firefox is everything that IE is not: it's got a small overall footprint, it's gentle on system resources, it's quick to render and it's fully W3C standards-compliant. But, because it isn't IE, it also means there are still some sites that just won't render correctly, or even let you through the front door in the case of some banking services. This is no fault of Firefox, rather the short-sightedness of developers building non-standard sites, which end up being IE specific.
The good news is that the number of such sites is decreasing as the popularity of other browsers increases, and out here in the real world it's becoming less of a problem. However, you'd be advised to check any sites you need to visit regularly before committing 100 per cent to a default browser swap. We appreciate that migrating to Firefox is less likely to be an option in the larger enterprise, but for home and small business users it should be pain-free - and IE will still be there should you need it.
By Davey Winder Taken from the review in this months PC Pro