Firefox Officially Reignites Browser Wars

The Mozilla Foundation today officially released its open-source browser, Firefox 1.0, but the news won’t come as a surprise to a great many computer users. Since it released its preview version in September, 8 million people have downloaded the super-fast browser, a direct descendant of Netscape.

The Firefox project began about 19 months ago, and the team is proud but not ready to rest. “We feel very good about it,” Ben Goodger, lead engineer for Firefox, told LinuxInsider. “We’re certainly not done working. This is our first big step. We’re thrilled.”

Part of that thrill comes from knowing that this software gives a huge boost to the open-source world.

“What we’ve tried to show is that by having strong leadership and vision and getting a lot of people excited, we can create great software,” Goodger said. Not just good software, but accessible software. “Everyone can use this. My own mother has been using it since April of last year,” he added.

Underdogs Gaining Traction

Next up is a period of information gathering from the developers and users of Firefox. That will help them make any needed patches and decide what features to add for version 1.1, set to be released in March.

Microsoft, whose Internet Explorer (IE) holds more than 90 percent of the market, may not be quaking yet, but alternate browsers such as Firefox, Opera (developed by the Open SSL Project) and Apple’s Safari are making inroads. According to WebSideStory, IE’s market share dropped from 95.5 percent in June to 92.9 percent in October.

Mozilla, the most popular of the three underdogs with a market share of 6 percent, said its goal is to capture 10 percent of the browser market by the end of 2005. It has begun a marketing campaign at www.spreadfirefox.com to do just that. The foundation also raised $250,000 from 10,000 different donors to place a full-page ad in the New York Times, which it said it hopes to run in a few weeks. First, the foundation will create several different versions of the ad and invite people to vote on their favorite. The winner will be the one that runs.

Recommendation: Dump IE

It doesn’t hurt that earlier this year the Homeland Security Department’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) suggested that users consider a browser other than IE for security reasons.

The Wall Street Journal echoed that recommendation. “I suggest dumping Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser, which has a history of security breaches,” personal technology columnist Walter S. Mossberg wrote Sept. 16. “I recommend instead Mozilla Firefox, which is free at www.mozilla.org . It’s not only more secure but also more modern and advanced, with tabbed browsing, which allows multiple pages to be open on one screen, and a better pop-up ad blocker than the belated one Microsoft recently added to IE.”

In that paragraph, Mossberg touted the what many users cite as their key reasons for using Firefox. In addition, Mozilla and Opera both claim to be the fastest browser, and it is widely agreed either is faster at loading pages than IE.

Versions of the free browser are available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The Firefox project launched 19 months ago. To celebrate the release, the foundation will host Air Mozilla from 2-7 p.m. PST at the Spread Firefox Web site. It will include a live Web cast and text chat.

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