Ellen Asks Our Opinion On Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox
I've been reading about Internet Explorer 7 vs. Firefox and it seems most experts like Firefox better. In the past you've always seemed to like Internet Explorer better and I wondered if you might have changed your mind yet? I love your newsletters and trust you guys completely. Thanks for teaching so well. Ellen.

Thanks very much Ellen. First - Internet Explorer 7 is still in the beta stage, meaning it's not final and it's undergoing public testing. Right now Internet Explorer 7 is in beta stage 2, meaning its stable enough for use by the general public with the caveat that people not install it on their primary computer. Many people ignore this warning and install I.E. 7 Beta II on their primary machine and get upset when some other programs don't function correctly with it or some of their favorite web sites don't work correctly with it. This is just a note to all of you not to install Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 on your primary machine or you're probably going to experience some unusual behaviors you may not be happy with.

That being said, it's not fair to compare a beta release of a product with a production release of a product. Firefox is not currently in beta and is a production release. So any articles anyone has written comparing the two are suspect since it wouldn't be a fair comparison.

It's important to remember that many "tech" newsletters are written for geeks. Geeks normally love anti-Microsoft articles. So if you're writing for a geek audience and you want to be popular and successful, you better be anti-Microsoft of you're going to have a hard time holding onto your audience. Anti-Microsoft = "kewl" whereas pro-Microsoft="not cool". See? So, if you're a writer writing a newsletter and you want to appear "with it" then you really can't say anything good about Microsoft and you must praise everything that comes down the pike that is not made by Microsoft. So, already I.E. 7 is behind the eightball (sorry Eightball!).

Here's what we think. Firefox is a swell browser and we use it sometimes. We do not have it as our default browser and we're perfectly happy having it available when we want to use it, and we don't need it taking over the role of default browser. It lacks several things which are important if you use online banking, online stock brokerages, etc. that use "Active-X" controls. Active-X won't work in Firefox. Why? We don't know. Active-X was Microsoft's answer to Sun's Java. Java works in Firefox, but while Java can be misused, Active-X has gotten the bad press as being "malicious". Well, true, it can be used to install spyware, but we do want to point out that most of the time people install spyware by uninformed choice. They want those cute little smileys free or they want that cool toolbar free and actually install spyware/adware by clicking the "download now!" button - not by some hidden installation taking place deep in the bowels of their machine without their knowledge or permission. True, they may have been tricked into downloading spyware/adware by lies and deception and they may not have read the license agreement or privacy policy, but most of the time they've installed the spyware/adware by choice - so you can't blame Active-X for people clicking the "download now" button, can you? Well, those of us who wish to be fair can't but those whose job it is to appear cool and bash Microsoft can. And do.

We think, for sure, I.E. 7 has a way to go. It's not ready for primetime yet, but does have some interesting and useful new features like a phishing filter, tabbed browsing, and a much better built-in RSS reader than does Firefox.

Our concern with Firefox is simply this: There have been more security issues found in Firefox since its release to the public than there have been with Internet Explorer. Firefox touted itself as the "Safe Browser" and that's not true. There is no such thing as a "safe" browser, at least not now. The many security issues found in Firefox the past 18 months verify this. And the biggest problem Firefox faces is a catch 22. The more popular Firefox becomes the bigger target it becomes to hackers and online miscreants. The more people who install and use Firefox the more frequently it will be attacked. It's hard enough for a huge company like Microsoft to fend off attackers and miscreants let alone a small company that relies mostly on unpaid volunteers to program and release patches and fixes. We do not think that Firefox, if it continues to grow, can continue to provide its users with patches and fixes quick enough to keep ahead of the hackers who will inevitably see Firefox as a prime target and attack it relentlessly. The bigger Firefox gets the more of a bulls eye it paints on its tail. Unless Firefox changes the way its company is organized and finds some way of hiring and paying a large enough staff to handle future growth, we see a very bad time coming when Firefox users might be left swinging in the wind with security flaws being exploited and the Firefox organization unable to keep up with security patches and fixes.

There's much more to this story than you've read in other newsletters. They tend to expound profusely on the wonderful features of Firefox while ignoring the warning signs we've already seen. Even though less than 10% of all those who browse the Web use Firefox, there have been more security issues found in it in the past 18 months than there have been in Internet Explorer. And that's the truth. They'll tell you that they weren't "critical" flaws, but many actually were and many were serious. Most have been patched by now but you can be sure more flaws and vulnerably will be found and exploited.

In the end, the choice is yours. We don't recommend that you run out and install I.E. 7 Beta 2 as we don't think it's ready for primetime yet. That's reasonable though. Beta means "Test" and I.E. 7 is still in testing. If it were ready for primetime Microsoft would have released it without the "Beta" designation. If you do choose to install Firefox, we ask that you remember to take its claim to be the "Safe Browser" with a grain of salt and remember that the more people who decide to use it inadvertently make it a bigger and more desirable target for hackers and other ill-doers. We don't think the Mozilla organization is setup to be responsive to its users if Firefox garners a larger percentage of users. They don't have the resources and relying on volunteer programmers who help with Firefox in their spare time, is not reassuring for the future.

I guess we've proved two things to you by now:

#1. We're not writing for an audience of geeks
#2. We're not "kewl" and we don't care :)

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