Mozilla's Firefox rings in 2005 as the year of the alternative browser

Box Score

It doesn't take a crystal ball to see that 2005 will feature a renewed Internet browser war that will cost Microsoft Internet Explorer a lot of users'including us in the GCN Lab. The catalyst for the conflict is the recent release of Firefox 1.0 by the Mozilla Foundation of Mountain View, Calif. Put simply, Firefox is everything you need in a browser, minus the security risks common with Explorer.

To Microsoft's credit, Service Pack 2 plugged a lot of Explorer's holes, and Firefox and its Mozilla browser sibling also had flaws that were quickly patched. But compared to Firefox, Microsoft is a day (or more) late and a dollar short. Explorer has not received a substantial face-lift in years, and Firefox represents the best in new browser functionality.

Firefox takes just minutes to download and install. And thankfully, it can smoothly import your existing Explorer favorites, passwords, browsing history and cookies'a significant capability considering how long it can take to set up a browser just the way you like it. Granted, you may still need to install plug-ins so features like Flash applets work in Firefox, but the program makes it fast and simple to do.

Easy to use and surf

Firefox has the most effective built-in pop-up blocker we've used in either the Windows XP or the Mac OS X world. It also has the easiest interface to navigate, even compared to Apple's Safari browser, our previous favorite. Firefox lets you clear cookies and browsing histories with minimal effort in the Tools, Options, Privacy window. You can also easily manage all the passwords Firefox remembers for you, or, for some additional measure of security, set up a master password you must enter before Firefox will automatically fill in log-in information at individual sites. And here's a nice touch: When you create a master password, a dynamic, on-screen quality meter gives you an idea of how strong your chosen password is.

Ultimately, Firefox is a better browsing experience. Pages load quickly and, based on our experience, most sites are compatible with the browser. That said, no one should throw out their current browser until they're sure Firefox can get them everywhere they want to go.

Like other browsers not named Internet Explorer, Firefox includes a tabbed interface. ctrl-t or file, new tab opens a new browser session within the application, letting you switch among Web sites by clicking a tab rather than minimizing or opening extra windows. And when you come across a site that has RSS feeds, an icon appears in the lower right corner, making it simple to add RSS content to your Bookmarks menu or shortcuts toolbar.

Yes, there are other attractive Explorer alternatives, including Netscape 7.2, which is based on the same Mozilla code as Firefox, and Opera 7, which costs $39 if you want to use it ad-free. But from where we sit, Firefox is the best of the bunch and the most likely serious challenger to Microsoft's browser domination.

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