Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Firefox versus Internet Explorer (12/2005)

Q: I keep hearing about Internet Explorer versus Firefox. I am told Firefox is better. Is that true? Fred W. - Florence

A: “Internet Explorer versus Firefox” sounds like the name of the next Godzilla movie but is actually the name of a 2 year-old battle for who controls the software you use to view the World Wide Web. Weaknesses in browser software is one of the key ways viruses and spyware enter your computer.

The quick answer is that no browser is 100% secure from virus and hacker attacks but Firefox is definitely more secure than Internet Explorer - for now, anyway. That could change as Firefox becomes more and more popular and thus becomes a bigger target for digital vandals. So, there’s your answer. You can now move your eyes a few inches to the right and read something interesting written by a real journalist or you can stay in touch with your inner geek by reading on.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is the browser software most of us use to surf the Internet and comes built-in to Windows. Firefox is an “open-source” browser developed by the not-for-profit Mozilla organization. Open-source relates to free software whose development code is shared with anyone and everyone so that anyone with the right skills can customize the software and add features. Official releases come only from the governing Mozilla organization.

Firefox is offers faster download speeds, a familiar user interface, and a built-in pop-up blocker that is one of the best out there. One of the coolest innovations is a feature called “tabbed browsing” which allows users to jump back and forth between different websites with only one window open. There are also hundreds of nifty “extensions” to Firefox written by individuals that add functionality such as unobtrusive weather alerts, instant messaging and dictionaries.

Microsoft has no plans to update Internet Explorer on any system not running Windows XP with Service Pack 2. That leaves Windows 98 and ME users vulnerable to virus and spyware attacks unless they move to a more secure browser such as Firefox. The latest version of Firefox is compatible with old versions of Windows including Windows 95.

Internet Explorer uses “ActiveX” technology -- tiny pieces of software that automatically install when you visit certain Web pages. In most cases ActiveX scripts are cool and add music, animation or functionality to a page. But in some cases, criminal hackers have tweaked the code to damage your computer.

Firefox doesn't use ActiveX technology. That is a good thing for security but it also means that a few Web sites such as Microsoft’s Windows Update website might not work as their designers intended. That’s okay, though, since Firefox and Internet Explorer coexist just fine. I use Internet Explorer when I have to and Firefox for everything else.

So, yeah, there is really no reason not to use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. Snag your own copy from my website or by visiting

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