September 2nd, 2005

Most of you are using Internet Explorer to read this. About 80% of you in fact, according to my server logs, but I suspect that most of you think of that blue ‘e’ icon as simply ‘the internet’ and not as an application at all. But it is an application, called Internet Explorer (IE), and it’s not the only browser you can use to surf the web. About a year ago I ditched IE for a newer and better browser called Firefox and I want you to switch, too.

There are lots of benefits and many, many cool things it can do which you’re going to love. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Firefox lets you open web pages in new ‘tabs’. This means that in a single browser window you can have loads of pages loaded simultaneously, each in it’s own tab. If you occasionally find your browsing sessions bogged down in a sea of IE windows and a cluttered taskbar, you’ll find this incredibly useful. I soon got into the habit of opening links in new tabs to allow different strands to be followed and compared simultaneously. Think about how this would speed up digging through your search engine results.
  • With Firefox you can install chunks of extra functionality called extensions. Instead of being a bloated, heavy piece of software from the outset Firefox lets you pick and choose extra features and install them whenever you like. Because it’s open source (see next bullet) there are dozens of geeks around the world tapping away and creating amazing new functions for us all. Functions that prevent annoying ads displaying (Adblock), or let you login to registration required sites using a dummy account (Bug-me-not) or even that display the local weather outlook in the corner of your browser (Forecastfox). These alone make the switch worthwhile, but there are literally hundreds more. My absolute favourite is mouse gestures, an extension which lets you trigger common browser operations like “back” or “refresh” by drawing simple shapes with the mouse. Hold your right mouse button and drag upwards through a link to open it in a new tab. Phenomenal. It becomes intuitive frighteningly quickly.
  • Firefox is open source. A bit less of an obvious boon, but it means a few key things: It’s free and is always going to be free; because the Firefox community is constantly working, it’s always going to support the latest technology and be on the cutting edge; it is more secure than IE.

If you fancy testing it out please expect to be a bit less efficient for a day or so as you learn how to use the tool. Switching apps always leads to a frustrating period of displacement when it’s easy to be tempted back to the old ways. Don’t. You have my guarantee you’ll be happier with your new browser. Download Firefox.

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