Power user: What's all the fuss about Firefox?

John McCormick

I've received several e-mails pointing out the superiority of Mozilla's Firefox 1.0 over Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6.0. But because many government workers are prohibited from adding new software to their systems due to security concerns and the likelihood of higher support costs, I haven't discussed Firefox here, even though I use it myself.

IE's market share is shrinking, so I wanted to share my personal experiences with Firefox. To begin with, I do like it. It does a great job of blocking a lot of spyware and adware, which even IE6 on a Windows XP SP2 system welcomes with open arms.

Firefox's use of tabs to open new windows instead of opening entirely new browser sessions is an advantage for power users. And when you set your browser home page, it can include a number of tabs so Firefox will automatically load some favorite Web pages when you launch the program. (Open the pages you want in separate tabs, then choose Tools, Options and click 'Use Current Pages' under the General tab.)

Other than that, I don't see what all the excitement is about in an average office setting. I haven't seen any real advantage in terms of system or application stability. And there seems to be no significant memory savings using tabs over opening new sessions. Windows Task Manager reports that Firefox takes up only a marginally smaller memory footprint than IE.

I also experience ActiveX and Java plug-in problems in both Firefox and IE. Firefox has acted erratically on me when I've left it loaded overnight'for example, not allowing highlighting or copying. I like to run browsers without rebooting for days at a time because I do a lot of online research and write at odd hours. I can't do that with Firefox (or IE, for that matter) and still get important Java code to work the next day. This can be a hassle because I commonly have 20 Web pages loaded at a time as I shuffle between multiple projects. To Firefox's credit, at least I can make some of them part of my default home page, but I'm still forced to reboot.

I can't speak to the experiences of people who only open a few Web pages at a time or reboot every morning. They may see better results running Firefox than I do, although I should point out that Explorer also works pretty well under those circumstances.

Sure, the Firefox interface is an improvement over IE, but the benefit of a superior interface has to be balanced against the need for the average user to learn that interface. Power users will do fine, but we don't call the help desk.

The increased training and support costs required to deploy Firefox aren't justified given the marginal improvements I have seen. If you had a choice free of such constraints, then Firefox is better than Explorer, but only marginally superior. And you can't remove IE from Windows anyway, so why run another browser for minimal gain?

Those who feel Firefox is much more secure than IE are ignoring the parade of vulnerabilities discovered in Firefox, or they simply aren't using best practices to lock down IE and their operating system.

The bottom line is that there is no 'perfect' software. Every choice is a compromise, which makes it vital that we never stifle competition and become totally dependent on a single-source provider. To this end, I admit, Firefox is a welcome new product.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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