MANILA, December 7, 2004 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - With the much-publicized security problems of Microsoft Internet Explorer, not to mention the characteristic penchant of the tech market for variety and innovation, the online community has been raring for an alternative Web browser for years. But with every Windows PC sold on the market bundled with the world’s most popular browser, and with the world’s most popular sites designed and best viewed on Internet Explorer, few dare to go against the norm and view the Web from a different looking screen.

But even the de facto Web browser of the online world can take a little slide from its well-entrenched position. Tech reports from Web metrics firms, notably Amsterdam-based OneStat.com and US-based WebsideStory, place current Internet Explorer’s market share from 88 to 93 percent, down, they say, almost three to five percent since May, with rival Mozilla gaining the lost Microsoft share, mainly due to the introduction of a new stand-alone, open source browser called Firefox.

The launch a few weeks ago of Firefox version 1.0 seems to have given the IE market slide reports a boost and left the market all fired up to welcome a most-awaited new entrant, which the browser market hasn’t seen in many years since 1999 when the controversial IE, legal suits and all, gobbled up rival Netscape Communicator’s early market lead.

So far, more than five million copies of the browser have been downloaded from the Web in the last two months, to join what Mozilla claims as Firefox’s current base of eight million users.

Though still a very insignificant number to threaten IE’s dominant market position, it has definitely revved up a long-time laggard market, which by all indications has pointed to the fact that many Web surfers may be ready for a little experiment. Firefox’s competitive offer As an Internet surfer’s window to the World Wide Web, browsers are understandably difficult to replace. As a user customizes his Web experience around a browser, there is bound to be some kind of dislocation with a change in the interface.

Morever, when one’s favorite website is programmed for a particular browser, i.e. Internet Explorer or Netscape, switching to a new browser will ignore some of the old browser’s customized features or functionalities which may be important to the user or a significant part of his or her surfing habits.

Thus, the key challenge of any browser that comes after the IE is to make sure that the custom features and functionalites will be available or replicated on the new platform while creating its own identity.

Firefox 1.0 definitely attempted to make switching easier and more attractive by introducing an "import" function on its file menu which allows switchers to import IE features such as bookmarks, saved passwords, browsing history, Internet options and favorites. The Google Search is also built in right into the find bar, while RSS integration allows users to read the latest news headlines and updates to one’s favorite sites that are syndicated.

Plug-ins, add-ons and toolbars from Internet Explorer are likewise available on Firefox such as Macromedia Flash Player, Apple QuickTime, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Sun Microsystems Java Plug-in. To extend its functionality even more, over a hundred extensions are available for the taking.

This browser’s strongest come-on though is in the area of security. The Mozilla website lists the following advantages: since the browser is not integrated into Windows, it helps prevent viruses and hackers from compromising the browser; it has a built-in pop-ad blocker and one has complete control over cookies; and since it does not support VBScript and ActiveX controls, there is greater privacy and security.

Mozilla claims that "no spyware/adware software can automatically install in Firefox just by visiting a website."

Microsoft has already attempted to plug many of IE’s security holes but for people who have been spammed, spied on and hacked and cracked on the Web, an alternative browser that promises to minimize such problems is always a welcome development.

Still the best features of Firefox is a tabbed browsing, which they say is a great feature of the original Mozilla, and even supported by other browsers such as Safari and Opera.

Firefox is just a browser, not a full Internet solution. That’s why it is easy to download. At only 4.7 MB, it can be downloaded in a few minutes and can run on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

The months ahead may be interesting to watch even from the sidelines. This week, Techweb.com, a resource site for IT professionals, reported that America Online Inc. announced that it has started testing a prototype of its Netscape browser that will allow users to switch from Mozilla to IE easily.

It is truly something to watch out for.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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