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Internet Explorer vs Firefox - An Editorial


"Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

Internet Explorer has been around for quite a while now. Netscape started the rush towards the web but Internet Explorer, as a free application AND bundled with Windows, kept the momentum going.

With the popularity of the internet growing and Microsoft finally acknowledging this with their entry, the sophistication of web pages grew to the limits of the browsers, pushing their capabilities beyond the limits of the standards of the time.

Microsoft decided to "enhance" the support of web pages with ActiveX and produced premature implementations of HTML interpreters. This lead to a browser war between Netscape and Microsoft until Netscape's back was virtually broken.

Each new version meant more incompatibilities between not only Netscape and Internet Explorer but between different versions of the same browser. The browsers were being released faster than committees could agree on standards. In the end, we had such an assortment of browsers in use by the public that web development costs sky-rocketed due to the need to implement multiple versions of pages or find ways to get all browsers to display and function in similar fashions.

Eventually some standards had begun their entry into the adoption process. CSS and javascript are becoming easier to use but still suffer enough differences in implementation to cause plenty of heartache. As the market for browsers starts to even up, we are starting to see companies conform to standards rather than being the exception. The last couple of years has seen some changes - new browsers and significant open source growth. With the growing acceptance of Firefox, it is time to seriously look at the worth of Internet Explorer against the "new kid on the block".

This section could just as easily be Internet Explorer vs Opera except that Opera isn't completely free (you have to pay for support) and for that reason alone we'll leave it out. We are looking for a "no-cost" comparison.

Quirks
Every browser has it's quirks and Internet Explorer certainly has its share. With the numbers of users of this browser, I sometimes wonder if the quirks are intentional and it's Microsoft's way of ruling-the-roost. Developers will most likely design for the most common browser (IE) and then test and adjust code to make allowances for the differences. The only problem is that more often than not it is Internet Explorer that breaks the rules eg CSS (Cascading Style Sheets - see glossary).

Why hasn't Microsoft fixed these "flaws"? It certainly isn't because it will break a lot of websites - they do not normally show this type of concern with backward compatibility. Despite the monopoly that IE has, the bulk of developers and owners of websites would welcome such a move, if it were to clear up these inconsistencies and provide full and proper support of web standards such as CSS. It's not that Firefox, and possibly others, don't have their problems, it's just that IE seems to have more than it's share and if a open-source group like Mozilla can get their act together then why can't a multi billion dollar company?

Firefox
Firefox 2.0 blocks many viruses, spyware, and popup ads. It's easy to install and import your IE settings. There are useful features like tabbed browsing, live bookmarks, and an integrated search bar.

Firefox delivers more accurate displays of complex web sites and provides consistent and accurate support for web standards such as CSS.

Tabbed Browsing can be used to open multiple web pages in a single browser window. You can quickly flip back and forth between open pages without having multiple instances of the browser open. Drag and drop open tabs to keep related pages together.

Stronger Security
Firefox provides more secure web browsing. There is no ActiveX and therefore the most common means of invasion by spyware and viruses is vastly reduced. Firefox allows the user to block foreign cookies and images which greatly increases the response time because you are not downloading images for third party advertisements. The Firefox developers and security people work constantly to close off security issues and release updates.

Extensibility
One problem about applications today is that many of them are pretty much set in their ways when particular tasks are to be performed. Mozilla has implemented an extension capability which permits changes to behaviours and adds functionality to their applications. Developers can create an extension which can extend or enhance such things as ad blocking, page previews or even layout changes.

Accessibility
Firefox delivers easier navigation for those who are visually or motor-impaired.

"Firefox is the first browser to support DHTML accessibility, which, when enabled by Web authors, allows rich Web applications to be read aloud. Users may navigate with keystrokes rather than mouse clicks, reducing the tabbing required to navigate documents such as spreadsheets. Firefox 2.0 (Windows version) is also the first browser to meet US federal government requirements that software be easily accessible to users with physical impairments." - www.mozilla.org/firefox

Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer comes integrated with the operating system. It cannot be uninstalled as it's components are an important part of the operating system. It is the only visual interface which will work with Windows Updates. It is used wherever web display is used in the Windows applications eg Windows Explorer. So, in a nutshell, if you use Windows you literally can't do without it! On the other hand, what else does it give us? A browser which has serviced a very large portion of the computer users around the world for over a decade, so it obviously delivers what the users need, doesn't it? But at what price?

Internet Explorer provides support for foreign cookie blocking. It also supports scripting and ActiveX blocking (since Windows XP Service Pack 2) by default, which was a good move, security wise. On the other hand, the change temporarily "broke" a lot of websites by blocking javascript etc IE gave the unwary (read "uninformed") user little indication of what was really happening and why - many service calls resulted from this sudden change because people didn't connect the problem with service pack 2 - despite Microsoft's published warnings.


Conclusion - An Opinion
The developers of Firefox haven't stopped their development because there is something better on the horizon.

All in all, Firefox is still in it's infancy when considering the user-hours that have been logged compared to the likes of Internet Explorer. It still has a way to go but we believe it is closer than Internet Explorer has ever been.

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