Firefox Could Give IE A Run For The Money

Free browser aims for consumers with pop-up blockers; more admin tools are coming
By the day of its release last week, Mozilla Foundation's Firefox 1.0 had already garnered 3% of the Web-browser market. Not bad for a new product competing directly with Microsoft's widely entrenched Internet Explorer.

An early version of the free browser was downloaded 8 million times last month, according to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. Web-usage statistics gathered by Web analytics company WebSideStory Inc. show Firefox gaining share quickly--at Internet Explorer's expense. Internet Explorer's share slipped from 95.5% in June to 92.9% in October.

Users like Firefox's tabbed browsing, which allows multiple Web pages to appear within one browser window, its ability to block pop-up ads, and fraud-detection features that protect against phishing and spoofing scams. In its first iteration, Firefox is aimed at consumers, but Mozilla Foundation chief architect Brendan Eich says administration tools for IT departments already are available and more are planned.

What can Microsoft do about it? The company introduced a major upgrade to Internet Explorer in August, but it works only on PCs running Windows XP Service Pack 2, which is about 20% of what's out there. Other Windows users are stuck with an older version of Internet Explorer that's vulnerable to security breaches.

Microsoft officials say Internet Explorer has its advantages, including compatibility with most business applications. They promise incremental security improvements to it before 2006, when a new version debuts as part of Microsoft's Longhorn operating system. Until then, new add-on functionality will mostly come from third-party developers. If Firefox continues to gain share, that could change. Says a Microsoft manager, "We could always rethink our plans."

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