The Good It's quick, easy to use, and virus-resistant
The Bad Nada
The Bottom Line The rare software program that just makes you happy
A new web browser is catching fire -- the aptly named Firefox. It's rapidly becoming the browser of choice for PC users who are concerned about the security of Microsoft's (MSFT) ubiquitous Internet Explorer, a favorite target of viruses and spyware programs.
Firefox has some nifty features that Internet Explorer lacks, and it runs on Linux computers as well as Windows and Mac (AAPL) machines. It also appeals to people who don't want Microsoft to monopolize the Web.
If you haven't made the switch to Firefox, getting started is a snap. Using your current browser, go to Mozilla.org and click on the Firefox download button. When a window opens asking you what you want to do with the file, click "save to disk." Then, when the computer displays a download manager list, click on the "Firefox setup" item. A setup wizard walks you through the process.
SWIFT AND SVELTE
At the end you have the opportunity to select Firefox as your default browser. If you do, you can still use the other browsers on your computer. With a last click you can import favorites, bookmarks, passwords, and cookies from your previous browser. The whole process takes two minutes if you have a broadband connection.
One of the pluses of Firefox is that it is a svelte program that loads and operates quickly. The "Firefox Start" page has a Google (GOOG) search bar in the middle and easy-to-identify menus and links to familiar browsing features. Click first on the "Firefox Help" link at the bottom left, which takes you to "Firefox Central," a page that explains how to use the program. Firefox makes it easy to add plug-ins such as Real Player (RNWK) for streaming media and Java for interactivity. You can also add extensions that provide optional features such as chat and a dictionary.
One of the most popular standard features is "tabbed browsing." This allows you to set up a handful of favorite Web pages that open automatically when you launch your browser. You can keep your A-list pages open and shift rapidly among them using graphical tabs that look similar to those on paper file folders.
Unfortunately, some Web sites use proprietary Microsoft technologies that are not fully compatible with Firefox. In most cases you can still use the sites, but some of the graphics may be distorted. The Mozilla Foundation, which built Firefox with the help of thousands of volunteer programmers, has organized a campaign to persuade Web sites to adopt open standards and welcome all browsers.
One last to-do item before you start surfing with Firefox: Take a minute on the Mozilla.org site to make an online donation to the foundation, whose mission is to preserve choice and innovation on the Internet. The browser is free, but Mozilla has expenses. If you're using the product, why not help support it?
By Steve Hamm