software/firefox.gifFirefox is a browser to love. The interface is streamlined. It is easy to use. It is free. And best of all, it gives you everything you need to surf the Web.

Compared to the current version of Internet Explorer (6.0) it sparkles. Firefox has a built-in Pop-up blocker like the one provided for Internet Explorer with Service Pack 2. It has tabbed browsing, a download manager, RSS integration (for news feeds), an integrated toolbar search, themes that can be used to change the look and feel of the browser, and extensions that add functionality to the user interface. Firefox doesn’t have a lot of user options or special configurations, but everything you need is at your fingertips without any customization.

Downloading and installing Firefox is easy. Just surf over to the Mozilla Web site and click on the Free Download link. Depending on your operating system and other browsers you may have installed, Firefox will either ask you if you want to copy your favorites and Web information from your other browser, or will automatically copy the information.

Firefox supports tabbed browsing which is an extremely useful feature that makes it easier to switch between Web sites. The Tab Bar is hidden by default when only one web site is open so when you begin using Firefox it will act similar to Internet Explorer opening each link you click on in a new window. You can make the Tab Bar visible all the time by clicking on Options, choosing Advanced, and removing the checkmark in front of “Hide the tab bar when only one when site is open” in the tabbed browsing area. To open any link as a new tab, you can right-click on the link and choose “Open link in new tab”. The open Web sites will appear on the Tab Bar at the top of the Web window. There are several other ways to open a new tab. You can drag the link and drop it on an empty space in the Tab Bar or, if you have a wheel mouse, you can click on the wheel to open the link in a new tab.

Much of Firefox is minimalistic. It gives just enough features to be useful without a lot of fluff. This is a really good thing in most instances. It gives the browser a lean and mean kind of attitude. The one place that I found this approach lacking was in the tabbed browsing. After using the tabbed browsing in the Opera Web browser, I was spoiled. I was left wishing that Firefox would make it easier to open a new tab, to rearrange tabs, and to close multiple tabs as you can in the Opera browser. When you click the mouse wheel or dragged a link to the Tab Bar a new tab appears, but the tab doesn’t open. I sure would like to see the Firefox creators address these issues in the next version of the browser.

Surfing is easy with Firefox. If you have used Internet Explorer you will be able to start surfing immediately. The names of certain items are different, but most are obvious. Favorites are called Bookmarks. The Address Bar is called the Location Bar, and Refresh is called Reload. Click on Help and choose “For Internet Explorer users” to see other differences in terminology and to get more information on the differences between the two browsers.

Firefox includes a useful Search bar just to the right of the Location Bar. You can choose the search engine you want to use and type in the search term without having to actually go to the search engine’s home page. Another feature that blows Internet Explorer out of the water is Firefox’s Bookmarks Manager. Internet Explorer’s “Organize Favorites” is an almost completely useless tool while organizing bookmarks using the Bookmarks Manager is much easier and more intuitive. Firefox’s Toolbars are also customizable and you can organize them to save screen space which is not a viable option in Internet Explorer.

Since Firefox was developed as an open source project, there are lots of add-ins written by individual programmers that are available as free downloads. Click on Tools, then Choose Themes and click on “Get more Themes” to get free “skins” that change the look and feel of the browser. The themes are both fun and useful. Another practical feature of Firefox is the Extensions which can be accessed by choosing Tools, then Extensions, then “Get more Extensions”. Extensions are add-ons that give new functionality to the browser program. In the Extensions I found enhanced controls for tabbed browsing and an enhancement that will save all my open Web pages and have them reappear when I restart Firefox. While it is easy to get started using Firefox, you will want to spend some time investigating some of these enhancements.

If you are using Internet Explorer just because it came with your computer, it may be time to try a new browser. Firefox is certainly worth a look and you may be inclined to give it more than a passing glance.

Manufacturer:  Mozilla

Price:  Free