Mozilla Foundation Releases Rebranded Firefox Browser

Open-source developer the Mozilla Foundation has released a new version of its next-generation browser, dubbed Firefox after a name change and the addition of several new features that bring the browser, according to the group, to “the bleeding edge of Internet technology.” The browser was formerly known as Firebird, but Mozilla changed its name to Firefox, now in version 0.8, because of a conflict with another open-source project.

The Firefox preview is approaching final, full-point release as Mozilla pushes the project forward. Features in the current release include a new download manager for tracking multiple downloads; improvements to bookmarking; new extensions and applets for spell-checking, Internet searching, banner ad removal and more; and a new installer for Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X users.

Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio told LinuxInsider that while the browser is becoming bigger in terms of its technology and is building a solid audience among home and small-business users, Mozilla is still far from making inroads into the enterprise market. However, the corporate market is a segment of the computing field that the Mozilla Foundation is beginning to target, particularly with a new suite of products that includes the Thunderbird enterprise e-mail application.

“They’re certainly building a very rabid and committed following among consumer and SOHO users,” DiDio told LinuxInsider. “The thing we have to distinguish is open source and Linux. Open source is not going to take over the enterprise. It may do well in niche markets, but with the free downloads you have to be a hunter-gatherer. That type of appeal is not really going to attract corporations.”

Pent-Up Demand

Nevertheless, Mozilla cited nearly 1 million downloads of its Mozilla 1.6 Internet suite in its first 20 days of availability. The Foundation called it “a powerful testament to the pent-up user demand” for the browser.

Indeed, a spate of vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s dominant Internet Explorer browser has bolstered the appeal of alternative browsers, such as Mozilla and Opera. The alternative challengers are widely viewed as faster and more efficient, and Internet Explorer has been criticized for disrupting Web browsing when users actually lock it down into a secure state using Microsoft-issued recommendations.

The new Firefox 0.8 browser, Thunderbird 0.5 e-mail software and Mozilla 1.6 suite (with browser, e-mail, HTML editor and chat software) are all available for free download from the Mozilla Foundation site, with source code and documentation available under the organization’s open-source Mozilla Public License.

Free T-Shirts and Fear

DiDio said the new Mozilla browser extensions and cross-platform applets are an acknowledgement that the dominant Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers are not going away, while additional security enhancements illustrate Mozilla’s recognition that it must head off potential security issues.

The analyst said the fact that the Mozilla Foundation is still seeking donations — and giving away T-shirts in exchange for certain donation amounts — does not sit well with corporate IT decision makers.

“The questions from a lot of established businesses — mainstream businesses — are: ‘If I use this, what warranties are you giving me? What indemnification is there? What is the product warranty? What if something goes wrong?'” DiDio said. “You’re really on your own.

“Most companies want a bit more,” she added.

Microsoft Moves In Response

Gartner research vice president Martin Reynolds told LinuxInsider that although open source and alternative browsers such as those from Mozilla and Opera — which just announced it will conduct an IPO next month — have an opportunity to gain ground against Internet Explorer, Microsoft surely will respond if threatened.

“Microsoft is the opportunity and the catch,” Reynolds said. “Microsoft isn’t everything, so there’s opportunity for a decent alternative for Linux and other devices.

“But Microsoft is also interested in protecting its space, and [alternative browsers] could face a challenge from some kind of ’embedded Internet Explorer’ if [the alternative browsers] are too successful,” Reynolds added.

The question remains whether Firefox will be able to continue increasing its share of the browser market. Many Firefox users swear by the browser’s features — such as the built-in pop-up blocker and tabbed browsing capabilities — that distinguish it from the sparse Internet Explorer.

But features and innovation, Microsoft has demonstrated in the past, can easily be beaten by tight control of the desktop.

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