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The good: Firefox has a tabbed interface; includes a pop-up blocker; built-in, multiple search tools; and built-in RSS reader. It is stable and free.
The bad: No ActiveX support, so not all sites work in Firefox.
The bottom line: Firefox's tabbed browsing, RSS support, security features, and overall cool factor make it more attractive than Internet Explorer.
hide (x)CNET editors' reviewReviewed on 3/24/05 Updated on: 11/12/04 Release date: 11/10/04 Editors' note: In the original version of this review, we neglected to point out that Firefox has the ability to view blocked pop-up advertising and to selectively allow and disallow pop-ups from individual Web sites. We regret any confusion. (11/12/2004)
Mozilla Firefox is the dream Internet browser you've been looking for. Featuring a host of small technical improvements, including tabbed browsing, built-in and customizable search bars, and a built-in RSS reader, Mozilla's Firefox browser is the one that should finally put a dent in Microsoft Internet Explorer's unrivaled market dominance. While its lack of ActiveX support might prevent some sites from working properly, after more than three weeks of use in our tests, Firefox remained fast and stable and displayed an impressive range of cutting-edge browsing options. We were able to view every Web site just fine, thank you. If you're fed up with the latest Internet Explorer security patch issued from Microsoft or with the latest virus to capitalize on some flaw in IE, you should switch to Firefox--now.
Setup and interface of Mozilla FirefoxMozilla Firefox runs on a variety of Windows operating systems, including Windows 98 through XP, as well as on Mac OS X and several varieties of Linux, including Red Hat Linux 8.0. By comparison, to get the latest version of Internet Explorer 6.0, you must already be running Windows XP SP2; if you're not, you'll have to pay about $99 for your operating system upgrade. Microsoft no longer offers new versions of IE as standalone downloads. The hardware requirements for Firefox are minimal. PCs require only an Intel Pentium II or AMD K6 processor, and Macs need a PowerPC 604e 266MHz, with 64MB of RAM and 52MB of drive space.
It took us about 2 minutes to download the Firefox installer, and we had our browser up and running in less than 10 minutes. The Mozilla Organization offers a number of tools to ease the transition from Internet Explorer. For example, the application asked us if we wanted to import our bookmarks from IE, then did so with aplomb.
Most of the Firefox interface labels are intuitive, although users may need to learn a few different menu terms from those in IE: Options instead of Internet Options, Cache instead of Internet Files. In fact, at a glance, Firefox looks and works almost exactly like Internet Explorer.
Perhaps the most noticeable interface difference from IE is the addition of a customizable search bar built into the Firefox menu bar. Although Google, Yahoo, and others offer plug-in search bars for Internet Explorer, the Firefox search bar is much more flexible, allowing you to add not only other search engines but Amazon.com, eBay.com, Dictionary.com, and even IMDB.com.
Features of Mozilla FirefoxFirefox does not reinvent the browser, but it does provide technical enhancements that make Web browsing faster, safer, and easier. Like Internet Explorer, Firefox includes built-in controls to block pop-ups.
One major interface difference is Firefox's tabbed browsing feature, which lets you open several Web pages within a single browser window. Quickly move among pages by clicking the tabs at the top of the window. Compare that to IE, in which you must open several instances of the Microsoft browser, each requiring system resources. So viewing multiple Internet pages in IE can tax your computer, while tabbing through multiple pages within Firefox will not. Tabbed browsing is also available in the Apple Safari and Opera browsers, but not in Internet Explorer.
Another nice feature is a built-in RSS reader. In other words, Firefox delivers automated updates of news or blog content from sites that you subscribe to in advance. Internet Explorer offers no such beast. Mozilla calls these RSS feeds Live Bookmarks because the content is dynamic. With Live Bookmarks in place, we were able to read the latest headlines from sites such as News.com, Slate.com, and Slashdot.org. There are third-party RSS readers that work with IE 6.0, but it's nice to have this functionality built into your browser.
Firefox is more secure than Internet Explorer, in part because most criminal hackers look for holes in the industry leader--that's just efficient business. But there are also several structural differences that make Firefox an inherently more secure browser. First, Firefox doesn't support VBScript and ActiveX Controls, which are often the source of attacks and vulnerabilities within IE. Unfortunately, the lack of ActiveX support also affects the performance of some Web sites. For example, the pop-up menu at Slate.com, a Microsoft site, didn't work within Firefox, but we were still able to navigate the site. Also, while Outlook Web Access did work, some of its features were missing or rendered differently. But at most sites, Firefox worked just as well as IE 6.0.
Another difference from Internet Explorer is in how Firefox handles secure Web sites, such as e-commerce or online banking sites. When visiting a secure site, Firefox highlights the address bar's URL in yellow and shows the Lock icon. If you click the Lock icon, you can review the site's security information and decide whether to continue. The domain name of the site you are visiting is also listed in the right-hand corner of secure windows, so you know the true source of every page. A criminal hacker might be able to spoof the location bar address, but he or she won't be able to spoof this secondary address display. Given all this security, we were still able to log on to secure financial sites, including Citibank.com and Fidelity.com, without any problems.
Like Microsoft, Mozilla has developers building helper applications for Firefox. While there are more plug-ins available for Internet Explorer, the Firefox plug-ins, called extensions, are much more varied in nature. For example, Chatzilla is an IRC chat client, Adblock blocks flash advertising from Web sites, and Mouse Gestures lets you navigate using simple mouse movements. There are currently 170 extensions available for Firefox, compared to several hundred plug-ins currently available for Internet Explorer.