By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2004-11-09 Print this article Print

The Mozilla Foundations Firefox browser was designed to compete directly with Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer. eWEEK Labs tests show that Firefox handily wins the competition on features, capabilities and adherence to standards, although IE still has an edge in the enterprise because of inertia and the availability of robust deployment and customization tools. We recommend, however, that all IT administrators at least test the Firefox browser and consider it as an option for replacing the trouble target also known as IE.

Ten years ago, businesses turned to a new company called Netscape Communications Corp. to help them get access to the then-fledgling World Wide Web. People who used the Netscape browser at work began using it at home, and the popularity of the Web exploded. Microsoft was notoriously late to this arena, but it ended up winning what became known as the browser war.

It turns out, though, that the war isnt over.

During tests, eWEEK Labs found the free, open-source Firefox 1.0 to be extremely user-friendly and intuitive, with probably the most minimal learning curve imaginable. In addition, the Linux and Mac OS X versions of Firefox are functionally identical to those on Windows, making Firefox an excellent cross-platform solution. (Firefox can be downloaded from www.mozilla.org.)

With its streamlined interface and wealth of navigational aids, Firefox makes IE look every inch the old, static artifact it has become.

In fact, as we see it, IE has only two advantages over Firefox: It comes preinstalled on Windows systems, so most users are familiar with it, and many Web sites and enterprise applications are coded specifically for IE as opposed to Web standards.

Click here to read about IE losing market share to Firefox. However, for many companies, these are not trivial differences. IT managers will need to decide whether Firefoxs features and security capabilities offset possible deployment and compatibility problems.

And the Mozilla Foundation could be doing more to help companies deploy Firefox. Given the small size and simple design of Firefox, IT managers should find it fairly easy to deploy the browser using standard application management tools.

Still, to be truly corporate-friendly, Firefox will need to include features that will help companies customize and deploy the browser—something along the lines of Microsofts Internet Explorer Administration Kit.

When launching the Firefox browser, users will instantly notice its clean, uncluttered interface and familiar Web navigation icons. Digging deeper, users will find that Firefox includes such useful features as the tabbed browsing capabilities also found in Opera Software ASAs Opera; Apple Computer Inc.s Safari; and Firefoxs cousin browser, Mozilla.

Firefoxs pop-up-blocking features worked well in tests, providing feedback in a small status bar when a pop-up was blocked and making it possible to quickly unblock a site from which we might actually wish to get pop-ups. We also really liked Firefoxs find-in-page features, which are the best weve seen in any browser. Rather than launching a separate window for the Find command, as most browsers do, a small tab bar is launched at the bottom of Firefox—a much more user-friendly method.

Firefox also does a pretty good job of integrating RSS news feeds—in a way that makes sense for a browser rather than the standard e-mail client metaphor that most programs use. Whenever we loaded a Web page that had RSS feeds available, Firefox would show a small feed icon in the bottom right-hand corner. By clicking this icon, we could choose to add the feed and then access it from our Bookmark menu. We also liked that the address bar provided obvious, color-coded feedback when we accessed a secure Web page.

Next page: Firefox at work.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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