Mozilla Firefox 1.0

(Windows, Linux, Macintosh and other OSes, free from

Years before Microsoft imposed Internet Explorer on the masses as the bundled browser with Windows, there was a choice, and that choice used to be Netscape Navigator. Gradually, as IE took over, Netscape became less and less popular, and eventually Netscape's source code became open source. From that, the Mozilla Foundation was born and started work on the Mozilla suite. Mozilla proved itself over the last few years as a worthy successor to the Netscape family, but never seemed to capture the public's imagination in the same way. They decided to re-write their main core programs from the ground up, and with the web browser, it was incarnated as Phoenix, before going through to Mozilla Firebird, and now Mozilla Firefox, which is the name which has stuck.

Internet Explorer, for as long as I can remember, is full of security holes that Microsoft have had to patch constantly. While some of those patches were also down to Windows vulnerabilities, it was Microsoft's introduction of ActiveX many years ago which really let the cat amongst the pigeons. The very same Active X that allows rogue diallers, popups and spyware to install on your PC without your say so. The very reason, why for the first time in years, many IT magazines were recommending using anything else other than IE. Proof is in the statistics, for years IE usage was around 95%, over the last few months that's dropped to 92% and is still dropping.

And the browser of most choices? Mozilla Firefox. And why? Stability, ease of use, and above all else proper web standards compliance - the sort of thing IE can realistically only dream of.

While Firefox has been in development for some time, it was Tuesday 9th November that saw the first full 1.0 public release. And suffice to say, what a release - one million downloads on that first day should tell you all you need to know, but here I'll delve into a few of Firefox's nice features, and how good it actually is. So let's start off with:

Pop Up Blocking - The bane of any web surfer are those annoying as hell pop-up windows that certain web sites like to display all the time in terms of advertising. They're much more prevalent on certain company web sites, but nonetheless wouldn't it be great if they were blocked? Well, for ages now Mozilla had this option, and Firefox carries on this trend very nicely. When a pop-up is blocked, you receive a window just below the browser address bar to tell you it's blocked a pop-up. If you click the message, you can allow popups for that web site if you wish, go to the blocker options, or (if you don't like the message coming up) disable the message from appearing on screen. If you do the latter, you'll still see a yellow warning sign come up lit when a popup is blocked. Interestingly, IE6 SP2 (in Windows XP SP2) looks almost the same when displaying a blocked message. Seems like they got that idea from Firefox, eh? In practice, the blocking works well, and if there's some pop ups that appear due to them being programmed in JavaScript, no problem - you can go to the options and limit what Javascript can do as well, if you really wanted to lock it down further.

Search Bar - One thing you'll instantly notice is at the top right of the Firefox window, there is an option to use a search engine in this bar to find what you want quickly. It's also a great idea, as you don't have to go to the search engine's page first. By default, Firefox 1.0 ships with search engines for Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Creative Commons, and Ebay. You can also use the dropdown arrow next to the search engine's icon to select another engine, or to add search engines. I added Google UK and Ebay UK with ease - and even HMV UK was there to be added! Once in use, it's nice and intuitive and you'll find that an excellent tool - I know I do.

RSS Live Bookmark Feeds - Quite a lot of web sites are now using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) - which is a dialect of XML. Using RSS, web sites can provide up to the minute information for you as what's called "live bookmarks". So when you start to use the web, the live bookmark updates, and the folder within that updates too. It's easier to use in practice than explain, so point Firefox to BBC News ( and then you should see an orange "XML" button light up at the bottom right of the Firefox window. Click this, and you should see a "subscribe to RSS" option appear. Select where you want the bookmark to go, and click OK. Done. Now when you select your bookmarks, note the news stories come up from the submenu. Although Opera sometimes does it better with RSS, nonetheless the inclusion in Firefox makes it very welcome.

Themes - Firefox is customisable, too. From the Tools menu, select Themes. The Themes window will show you what themes you have installed. Clicking "Get New Themes" takes you to the Mozilla Update pages, where you can download new themes for Firefox. A theme changes the look and feel of the buttons, bit like skins do for Winamp (if you've ever used those). A personal favourite of mine is the Pinball theme, simply because the buttons are nice and small, allowing you to see more of the web site in the main window. Not just that, but some themes (for example Noia) also change the address main bar, so that secure sites are highlighted with green text, others in blue, and so on. I like the themes idea, simply because you can customise the look and feel to how you'd like it to be for yourself. And that's nice.

Software Installation - By default, even if you've allowed Firefox to install software (for example, Macromedia's Flash plugins) you will still be prompted to ensure that this is the software you want to install before just going ahead and doing so like IE used to do. You can even turn this option off if you don't want Firefox to install anything at all, which is very useful for some people. However, one step further is that you can tell Firefox what sites you're going to allow it to install software from, so that for example if you use Mozilla Update, that site address would be one you'd add. Same maybe for Macromedia, and so on. In practice, this option works really well as it ensures that you really want to do the install before potentially crashing your PC. Again, Firefox has had this for ages, well before WinXP SP2 decided to belatedly add this option to IE, but in 1.0 Firefox really is rock stable with software installations.

Download Management - Another useful tool that Firefox has had, 1.0 has even fixed a couple of little foibles it used to have. By default, Firefox will save items to the desktop, but in the Options screen, select "Downloads" and you can ask it where to save each file, specify a folder other than the desktop for downloads to be saved to, and you also have the option of showing a window with a download manager when downloads start, and closing it when finished. In any case, you'll get a little pop up at the bottom right of the screen when downloads have been completed (which can be turned off with customisation of a preferences file, should you wish.) In terms of ease of use, the Downloads manager is quite sensible - particularly if downloading more than one file - as you can see the progress of each one, and the estimated time. And also, Firefox is good at determining file types properly even if the MIME file type isn't set up correctly at the server end (although realistically for proper web standards compliance webmasters should register file types anyway) - although admittedly IE has done that for a while, Firefox handles it more intelligently than IE ever does.

Tabbed Browsing - While not a new feature either, the tabbed browsing works really well here, and is intuitive enough to not take up too much of the screen while doing so. It also saves opening another browser window and hogging up the taskbar on Windows. You can then choose to close that tab, or indeed, close all tabs if you require. A lot of people do find this to be very useful though, for example, when browsing web sites for technical information on something they wish to buy on eBay so that they can see at a glance what they're actually getting. Just an example maybe, but one where tabs make a lot of sense to say the least - quick and easy switching of browser windows.

Importing Settings - The first time you run Firefox, it'll ask you if you wish to import any bookmarks (or Favorites, damn IE) along with settings from various porgrams, including IE. So I simply asked it to import from IE, and also import from my age-old installation of Firebird, and both worked flawlessly. If at any time, you wanted to reimport the IE Favorites, you could simply go to File/Import, and follow the instructions. For people who wish to change browsers, it's great to know that the importing works without problems.

I must also mention how much work has been done to make Firefox truly cross-platform. At work, I've checked out Firefox on a Linux based PC (running Novell Desktop Linux, a SUSE variant) and also a top-end G5 Mac. And the look and feel is exactly the same on those platforms as it is on my Windows XP box - which means whatever platform I use in the office, I know I'll be able to just pick up the browser and go. No mean feat, particularly when you consider how good Safari is on MacOS, for example.

Also, compared to previous Firefox releases, web pages display pretty quickly, and accurately too. Proper web standards compliant pages like the BBC ones came up nice and quick, and there wasn't a difference in terms of speed between that and IE. And the default settings when you start up are set so that you're secure straight away without having to worry if you've missed out on any security options. While you may still get the rare occasional piece of spyware trying to sneak through, the way Firefox is, you'll probably know if something is happening without your permission. Which is very nice.

Final Verdict: Does the fact that I'm not going to use IE anymore (unless sites absolutely require it and nothing else) say all you need to know? For a 1.0 release, Firefox is a joy to use, and easy to pick up, it's very stable, gives you many things you want and not stuff you might never use, and also ensures that you're protected as much as you can from any niggling security hassles which has made IE such a target for spyware, adware, and hackers. In short, it's out there, it's a free download, what have you got to lose? I'll tell you - nothing. And you will gain a lot more by switching, believe me. So make it so!

Warren's rating: 94%