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Firefox 2 Aims to Steal IE Corporate Developers

Mozilla is challenging IE with all sorts of new goodies and developers are flocking to it faster than you can say "Firefox."

The Mozilla Foundation released the final version of Firefox 2 on Oct. 24. While the primary aim of the open source browser is to lure end users, another goal is to prompt corporate development managers to switch allegiances.

Officials from Mozilla believe the combination of the new Firefox and IE 7 radically changes the browser market. The most critical issue could be Microsoft's de-emphasis of ActiveX, a powerful technology that hackers love to attack, Mozilla officials argued in a recent interview.

Not only does the change rob Microsoft of an important market advantage, it gives Mozilla room to promote a development environment focused largely on AJAX.

According to Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering for Mozilla, developers use the same basic tools and techniques to build Web sites or Firefox extensions. The main tools are JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), Schroepfer says. "A text editor and WinZIP is all you need to build an extension," he explains.

Developers can target three main areas: The actual structure of the user interface can be modified, the style or the way the UI looks can be changed and the behavior of UI elements such as buttons and menus can be programmed. Firefox extensions can be implemented two ways: as a discrete extension or as extension code integrated within the Firefox code base itself.

Legions of Web developers already write to Firefox first, if only because some 10 percent of the market has gone over to Firefox and compatibility is critical. Being cross-platform doesn't hurt Firefox, either.

Because Mozilla is open source, its development environment and licensing are very different from Microsoft's. For one, Mozilla tries to keep the browser lean, and often adds features through add-ons. There are currently more than 1,800 add-ons that help users shop, blog or download music.
Firefox 2 includes the following improvements:

  • Spell checking
  • Live titles: short descriptions of Web site information
  • Anti-phishing technology
  • Session Restore: After a crash, you can recover your tabs and even the information you were typing into a Web site form.

Developers are likely to be most interested in the Add-on Manager. This tool makes it easier to install and use Firefox add-ons whether written by corporate developers, vendors or Firefox hobbyists.

Third Time's A Charm

Firefox 3 could be the most revolutionary version yet. With today's browsers, once a search or series of searches are done, the results are either stuck in the browser history store or perhaps saved by the user as a bunch of bookmarks. There's no easy way to go back and see how the search unfolded. Lacking a way to organize searches, users often go through the entire search process again when returning to a previously researched subject. By the same token, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to share the search process or results with others.
Firefox 3 could change all that. Mozilla is looking to add better tagging of sites, indexing of the history and having frequently visited sites highlighted, such as showing up automatically on your favorites, Schroepfer says.
-- D.B.

Firefox is gaining an edge on IE even as market research shows the open source browser grabbing increasing market share. According to OneStat.com of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, IE's global market share in September had slipped to 85.85 percent, from 87.28 percent in April 2005. Firefox, meanwhile, saw its share rise to 11.49 percent in September, from 8.45 in April 2005. Apple Computer Inc.'s Safari browser inhabits the third spot, with 1.61 percent of the market, according to OneStat.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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