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Open Source on your desktop with Firefox

I'm sure that everyone reading this has at least heard the words Open Source used in reference to software. As a matter of fact, Mahsa Kashani contributed an interesting article in June that outlined the legal basics behind what makes software Open Source. Licenses and such aside, most people have left the use of Open Source software to the Geek community up until now.

One of the longest running Open Source projects grew out of one of the most famous names of the early Web years, Netscape. Netscape Navigator was the dominant player in the web browser market for many years. It fell victim to a common software disease though. Netscape developers tried to put so many features into their browser that the quality began to suffer. When this happened, Microsoft was waiting in the wings with Internet Explorer and swooped in to take over the market.

Simplifying a complex series of events, Netscape ended up being bought by AOL and the code base from Navigator ended up in the Open Source community as Mozilla. Open Source developers jumped on this and the Mozilla browser was born. Fast forward to today when Microsoft's IE, which comes preinstalled on almost all new PCs these days, has become a well-known security risk and the tables are turning, with the most attractive alternative out there being the latest incarnation of the Mozilla browser, Firefox. Which brings me to the topic of my message this month - for those of you concerned about the security holes in IE and willing to try a browser designed from the user perspective, give Firefox a shot. You'll be glad you did.

Along with the security upside, Firefox has several features that, once you get used to them, you will have trouble living without. At the top of the list for me is pop-up blocking. I know, most IE users have been accomplishing this for awhile now using the Google toolbar. However, the only web browser that leaves you more open to viruses and spyware than IE alone is IE with Google toolbar. Firefox also allows you to allow pop-ups for trusted sites that use them for legitimate reasons (like online banking sites). I was surfing the web on a friend's PC the other day and was forced to use IE
with no pop-up blocking. I don't know how I ever lived without it.

The second most life-changing feature in Firefox is tabbed browsing. This is a feature the allows you to open web pages in "tabs" inside one browser window to aid in switching among several pages at once. It took me a little while to change my habits to utilize this feature, but now it's one I can't live without.

Finally, for those of you who get a taste of these new features and long for more, since Firefox is Open Source it is also extendable. What this means is that there are hundreds of browser extensions out there offering just about any feature you could think of. My current favorites are Dictionary Search, which adds an item in the menu that appears when you right-click that allows you to perform a dictionary look up of any word you come across while surfing, and Target Alert which puts an icon next to any link that isn't a plain link telling you what it does. For more interesting extensions checkout this Extensions Walkthrough.

So, if you're looking for a change, try installing Firefox today and let us know what you like or dislike about it. Also, let me know if you have any other tips or tricks for using Firefox and I'll publish the best ones in a future issue of The Link. Most importantly, if you design or create web pages makes sure to start testing in Firefox as well as IE; more people are switching every day.

Ryan McGredy - Media Net Link