When we use the internet and the World Wide Web we almost always use a web browser to access the information we seek. For many people their web browser is the most used programme on their computer. If you access the internet from
an internet café, web browsers might be the only programme you use.
Clearly web browsers are very important. Despite this, they are one piece of software we rarely think about. We don’t normally choose a browser as we might choose other important tools, such as a car or radio.
The reason we don’t make a conscious choice is that we almost always have a browser installed on our computer already. If you use Windows, and the vast majority of us do, the web browser called Internet Explorer is already there.
A similar situation exists for cars. When you buy a car it usually comes with a radio. For some people this radio is perfectly sufficient. For others the radio does not pick up their favourite station or doesn’t play cassettes or CDs or play loudly enough. Those people will get a new radio. You do not have to accept the choice that has been made for you by the car’s manufacturers. The same goes for browsers.
Firefox – free, open and secure
Firefox is a new web browser released earlier this month by the Mozilla organisation, an offshoot of the company Netscape, who produced one of the first web browsers.
Firefox is an open-source programme, meaning that, if you want to, you can look at the code that makes things happen, and even change that code if you see a way of doing something new or better. Internet Explorer is closed-source – you
are not allowed to see the code, so cannot see how the programme works or improve it.
For most people who do not know programming languages this is not obviously important. However, since Firefox is open-source, when a problem is discovered it can be fixed by anyone who has the knowledge, time and energy to do so,
not just employees of a single company. This means that security holes and bugs tend to be fixed more quickly in Firefox than Internet Explorer. Firefox is not as closely tied to Windows as Internet Explorer so any security holes that exist in it are less severe. This combined with its newness mean that currently Firefox is less of a target for hackers and spyware writers.
The security and frequent updating of Firefox is of greatest concern for businesses that need to safeguard their data. For individuals Firefox’s extra features are a far more compelling reason to use it.
Tabbed browsing keeps all your Firefox windows together in one item, meaning less clutter on your taskbar.
Popup blocking prevents those incredibly annoying pop up adverts that have been the blight of the internet for many years.
Search makes it easy to find words on a web page taking you to the information you need faster. Just start typing the word and you will be taken to each occurrence.
Search bar builds search engines right into Firefox. Just type your search into the search bar, select an engine from the drop down menu and you will be taken straight to the results.
Password Management allows you to see a list of stored passwords as well as automatically enter them on pages you have to login to.
Extensions allow you to add new features to Firefox such as news feed readers (one called Habari Xenu), advert blocking, and download management.
Themes allow you to change the look of Firefox.
These features make your web browsing both richer and safer. If you care about using the web it is certainly worth considering Firefox.
Firefox can be downloaded for free from www.getfirefox.com. It is a 4.7Mb download, which is considerably smaller than updates to Internet Explorer.
Firefox is just the newest browser available – there are other options for your web browser. Here are a few of them:
Mozilla is a full featured internet suite also produced by the Mozilla organisation. As well as a web browser Mozilla includes a full featured email programme with excellent junk mail filtering, and an HTML editor that makes it easy to create and edit your own web pages. Mozilla can be downloaded from www.mozilla.org/products/mozilla1.x.
Opera is a very compact browser that claims to be “the fastest on earth.” Surfing can be speeded up by easily turning off images and the way pages are lain out can be adjusted in a number of ways which make them easier to read. Opera is available from www.opera.com.
Lynx is a text only browser – it does not show any pictures. For those on very slow connections using Lynx will speed up access to web pages considerably, although pages that rely strongly on pictures will obviously not be very satisfying. Lynx can be downloaded from www.fdisk.com/doslynx/lynxport.htm.
Originally published in Arusha Times 348