Langa Letter: The Pros And Cons Of Firefox

Firefox is a good browser but not the panacea its most ardent fans think it is. While Microsoft's IE gets most of the attention for its security vulnerabilities, the reality is that Firefox (like other open-source products) has security flaws of its own of that readers need to be aware of, Fred Langa notes.

Fred Langa, Contributor

April 14, 2005

4 Min Read

Beyond Security
Lest we focus too much on just the area of security: Firefox has numerous other problems, too, as these real-life reader letters suggest:

Hi Fred. I use the Mozilla Firefox Browser... I'm wondering why certain pictures and/or icons don't show up on Web pages. As an example, Yahoo's logo on top of the page is not seen. Neither are the icons for the categories just below it. Additionally, I have gone to Web sites where there are buttons involving instructions where you need to continue to a following page and there is no button shown to continue. When switching to Netscape, however, these buttons are clearly seen and identifiable....
-- Peter Gebhardt

Fred, I have installed Firefox and Thunderbird and have been using them because I have read that IE is too dangerous to use. I have a hardware firewall and Zone Alarm Pro, PestPatrol, Ad-Aware, Spybot, Spyware Blaster, Trojan Hunter, a lack of curiosity about strange E-mails, and a habit of careful browsing. I disabled Active X and a number of other things to increase security in IE. [ But] Many pages that I visit [ don't] render properly and some never completely download but seem to get into an endless cycle. I have the right-click option of "View this Page in IE" and that helps. I have noticed some oddities in Thunderbird (example: disappearing cursor) and it seems primitive....

I just started using Firefox and more than half of the downloads I've done are bad. Movies won't play, programs won't run, etc. I download them through IE and they work fine. I get no error messages and the file sizes are correct. I tried the forums, with no luck, so I had to uninstall it. If the downloads are bad it's certainly no good to me. Firefox doesn't work for everyone.
-- Charles Duwel

Of course, that's a tiny, nonrandom sample. But, like the stats that undermine the "it's more secure" myth, the letters illustrate that Firefox and its related software isn't a panacea for browser and E-mail problems outside of the security area, either. There are no magic cures, period.

Making Choices
It's important to remember that the mass market is radically different from the quieter niches where Linux and other open-source software used to live, and where they originally developed their reputations. It's very hard to produce robust, secure software that can succeed when installed on all manner of hardware, alongside all manner of software, employed by all manner of users, and attacked by large numbers of malicious developers. In fact, anyone who wants to play in the mass market will suffer some of the very same problems that Microsoft has more or less had to itself in past years.

To its credit, the open-source community responds to security problems as fast as it can, but many users still remain in adamant denial about open-source bugs and security holes, preferring to think that they don't exist, or denying their import when they do. (See Linux Has Bugs: Get Over It).

As you choose your browsers (and operating systems, or any software, for that matter), make sure your decisions are based on cold facts; not on unproven conventional wisdom; not on false analyses that ignore huge factors such as the size of the installed base; and not on the evangelical zeal of pro-open source or anti-Microsoft partisans.

It's great that there are open-source alternatives to try, and it's smart to proactively explore all your options. But go in with your eyes open: All software has flaws. There are no panaceas!

What's your Firefox experience been? Or your experience with other open-source software? Do you agree with Fred that software from Microsoft, Apple, and the open-source community is roughly equivalent in quality? If not, which is superior, and why is that so? What objective measures can we use to prove or disprove quality assertions? Join the discussion!

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Responses to "Langa Letter: The Pros And Cons Of Firefox"

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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