Browser usage numbers for 2006 are beginning to appear on the Web, and for the first time in many moons the market share of Microsoft’s dominant offering, Internet Explorer, has dipped below 80 percent.
While Internet Explorer’s star was sinking, its chief competitor’s, Mozilla Firefox, was ascending. Its market share climbed from 9.50 percent in January 2006 to 14 percent in December — just about the time version 2.0 of the browser was released.
When I upgraded from the old version of Firefox, I barely noticed the difference between the two releases. However, after using the new version for several weeks, the usefulness of its new features executed with such elegant subtlety became apparent to me.
The value of one of the new features — phishing protection — was particularly noticeable during the holiday season, when phishers were out in full force.
Phishing attacks involve the mass distribution of “spoofed” e-mail messages, complete with return addresses, links and branding. The fraudulent e-mails appear to come from banks, insurance agencies, retailers or credit card companies. They are designed to fool you into divulging personal data such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers and passwords, social security numbers and other personal information.
Firefox’s phishing protection feature is turned on by default. When you access a site, it automatically checks the URL against a database of known phishing sucker traps.
Another nice addition to the program is its enhanced search capabilities. As you type a term in the program’s built-in search box, the browser automatically suggests related search terms for you.
For example, when I typed in the search term “Dr. Who,” a drop down window appeared with suggestions for other search terms, including: Dr. Who BBC, Dr. Who series, Dr. Who episode guide, Dr. Who theme, Dr. Who DVD, Dr. Who scarf, Dr. Who Ice Warriors, Dr. Who trailer, and Dr. Who Leela.
Although Firefox didn’t invent tabbed browsing, it remains one of the program’s outstanding features. In this latest version of the application, Firefox’s tabs have been tweaked in a couple of useful ways.
By default, the browser will automatically opened new links as new tabs, not as new windows. Why this wasn’t the default in the first place has always puzzled me. After all, why use a tabbed browser if you’re not interested in opening links in tabs?
In addition, closing tabs has been made more convenient by the inclusion of a close-tab button on each tab.
More RSS Options
A “session restore” feature has been added to the application. It’s automatically activated when you update the browser or add an extension to it. If the program is open when your system crashes, the next time you launch Firefox the restore feature will reconstruct your browser session as it was before your computer failed.
This new version of Firefox also offers several ways to handle RSS (real simple syndication) feeds — a way for users to pull information from Web sites and blogs on the Internet.
When you display a Web page for subscribing to an RSS feed, Firefox will offer you the option of subscribing to the feed through a standalone reader, a Web service or a “Live Bookmark.”
Power Without Flash
Live Bookmarks let you see feed headlines simply by clicking on a bookmark. Headlines are automatically updated within the bookmark by the browser.
To go along with Live Bookmarks, Firefox also supports Live Titles. Just as a Live Bookmark will automatically update an RSS feed, Live Titles automatically update the labels of bookmarks. Live Titles allow webmasters to dynamically change information contained in bookmarks about their site.
If you’ve been using version 1.5 of Firefox, this latest incarnation of the program won’t blow you away, but you will be impressed by its understated yet powerful improvements.
If you’ve not been a Firefox user, this latest edition of the application will give you even more reasons to use it.
John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].