Canadian developer sees promise in Mozilla’s FireFox

Supporters of the latest Internet browser FireFox 1.0 are pulling out all the stops, including plans to buy a full-page ad in the New York Times, but at least one skeptic questions whether it will be enough to steal market share from Microsoft’s firmly ensconced Internet Explorer.


than five million copies of the latest version of the Web browser have been downloaded in more than a month, according to the Mozilla Foundation, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company that’s built the open-source product based on Netscape technology.

Though it may be premature to describe the Nov. 9 release of FireFox 1.0 as the start of the next Internet browser war, Mozilla anticipates taking 10 per cent of Microsoft Corp.’s user base.

“”I’m quite optimistic”” about Mozilla’s user predictions, said Steven Garrity, creative director at Silverorange, a Web developer in Charlottetown, P.E.I. “”I think they can do better than that,”” he said, although he was unwilling to make an actual forecast.

Yet, Garrity added, there’s more to the 10 per cent target than meets the eye.

“”I think since those people would have had to go and download FireFox themselves — since Internet Explorer is sort of already there by default — you’ve automatically got that group of people who are probably more engaged online, spending more time online, more aware of how to use the Internet, and therefore probably more likely to, say, spend money online.””

In contrast, a Fortune 500 firm with Internet Explorer on its 5,000 computers may have employees using their PC at work only a few times a day, explained Garrity.

Garrity said the browser would be a good fit for “”people who are setting the agenda for things that happen on the Internet,”” Web-site builders or fans of e-commerce.

That said, Mozilla is eager to reach out to the corporate world. Any business serious about developing Web applications over the next few years will have to “”pay significant attention to Firefox”” because of the 10 per cent user target, he said, adding his own company will have to keep in mind both browsers in its development work.

Mozilla hopes to entice home users of Microsoft Windows who are running into problems with spyware and pop-ads while browsing the Web. Firefox is touted to be almost immune to both problems.

Internet Explorer has Active X controls, small applications that can run inside a Web site and that may have some access to a local computer, Garrity said. But although a user can “”do more with them,”” they can also be used maliciously, he said.

After garnering a great deal of bad press about its security flaws, he said Microsoft earlier this year decreed it would audit its applications and operating systems. Now it’s finding it must catch up to Mozilla, which built privacy and security features into Firefox from the start, he said.

Other FireFox features Mozilla is boasting about include Tabbed Browsing, in which users can view a web page in a single window, while open links appear in the background ready to be browsed, and Smarter Search, featuring the Google search engine built directly into the toolbar. A “”find”” toolbar, meanwhile, finds subjects as the words are typed in.

Despite FireFox’s improved features and the hopefulness of advocates of the browser, some obervers lack Mozilla’s confidence. “”The average person out there is just delusional when it comes to change,”” argued Internet trends expert Jim Carroll of Toronto. “”They don’t know to deal with moving up to virus scanners or new e-mail tools or anything.””

Likewise, corporations are “”so far into the Microsoft thing”” that they would be unlikely candidates to gravitate to FireFox, which will probably find more ardent users within the Linux community or among other “”techie geeks,”” Carroll said.

Though he describes FireFox as a “”nice piece of software,”” Carroll said he is still using Internet Explorer, regardless of its plethora of security problems, because it’s so tightly bound into the system.

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