Mozilla launches Firefox 1.0 browser

The Mozilla Foundation has released version 1.0 of its Firefox browser, an open-source product that has generated lofty expectations that it will offer real competition to Microsoft Corp.’s ubiquitous Internet Explorer.

A preview release of Firefox available since last month has been downloaded over 8 million times, the Mozilla Foundation said in a press release Tuesday.

The buzz surrounding Firefox has been fueled by several factors, including the product’s quality, said Joe Wilcox, a Jupiter Research analyst. “The Mozilla team has done a really good job with the browser. It’s lean and mean,” Wilcox said.

Then there’s the widespread perception that Microsoft’s IE is vulnerable to security breaches, Wilcox said. “There’s the fear surrounding IE over potential exploits,” he said. “We hear a lot about the potential vulnerabilities (of IE) but not so much about the exploits of those vulnerabilities.”

Finally, Firefox’s emergence has been enabled by Microsoft’s decision to limit IE’s development in the past three or four years, Wilcox said. “It’s as if Microsoft fought hard to win the browser wars and then abandoned the territory,” he said, adding that during the height of the browser wars, Microsoft cranked out three significant IE upgrades in 18 months. “Now we’ve been sitting essentially on the same version of IE for the past three or four years. Just because Microsoft isn’t advancing (its browser technology) there’s no reason why (browser technology) shouldn’t advance.”

The Mozilla Foundation expects Firefox to own a browser market share of between 10 per cent and 12 per cent at some point next year, and to continue growing strongly thereafter, said Chris Hofmann, the Mozilla Foundation’s engineering director. Convinced that a majority of users are dissatisfied with their browsing experience, the Mozilla Foundation sees “a huge opportunity” for Firefox, he said.

Firefox backers maintain it is inherently more secure than IE, but, according to Wilcox, it is still too early to say because Firefox hasn’t been around long enough yet to be targeted by malicious hackers. “To IE’s advantage, Microsoft is investing huge amounts of money and resources in tracking down and plugging the security holes. In theory, that means IE has gone through its worst shakedown and that it’s pretty safe,” he said. “Firefox has yet to face the foxes and their fire.”

However, the Mozilla Foundation’s Hofmann said that there are concrete architectural differences that make Firefox more secure than IE, including the decision to not include in Firefox support for Microsoft’s ActiveX technology on the belief that such support makes a browser very vulnerable to spyware, viruses and malicious hackers.

“Firefox doesn’t have that (ActiveX) technology built into it, so we think it will be quite a while before malicious hackers figure out a potential way to insert spyware into Firefox. We think we have a head start against malicious hackers and hope to continue that lead in the future,” Hofmann said.

Firefox 1.0 is available in 12 languages for Microsoft’s Windows, Apple Computer Inc.’s Mac OS X and Linux. The product can be obtained through Mozilla’s Web site as a free download or in CD format with a user’s manual for US$14.95.

The result of an open-source project, Firefox became a reality “thanks to the tireless efforts of hundreds of community volunteers and developers around the world,” the Mozilla Foundation said.

Firefox 1.0 features an integrated pop-up ad blocker, and safeguards against online scams such as phishing and spoofing by displaying secure sites’ identities, the Mozilla Foundation said.

The product also attempts to improve the browsing experience by consolidating multiple Web pages into a single Window and organizing them with tabs, a feature the Mozilla Foundation calls “tabbed browsing.”

For those concerned about a bumpy migration to Firefox from other browsers, the product can import bookmarks, passwords and cookies, the Mozilla Foundation said.

Firefox 1.0 also solves a security vulnerability recently identified in its tabbed browsing feature, Hofmann said.

The Mozilla Foundation, based in Mountain View, Calif., is a nonprofit organization founded in July 2003 to support the Mozilla open source software project, launched by Netscape Communications Corp. in 1998. It has about a dozen full-time staffers, Hofmann said.

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