Internet Explorer, you're fired.
That should have been said a long time ago. After Microsoft cemented a monopoly of the Web-browser market, it let Internet Explorer go stale, parceling out ho-hum updates that neglected vulnerabilities routinely exploited by hostile Web sites. Not until August's Windows XP Service Pack 2 update did (some) users get any real relief.
And yet people found reasons to stick with IE -- alternative browsers cost money, were too slow, too complicated, or didn't work with enough Web sites.
Transcript: Rob was online to discuss the Firefox Web browser.
No more. Tuesday, the answer to IE arrived: a safe, free, fast, simple and compatible browser called Mozilla Firefox.
Firefox (available for Win 98 or newer, Mac OS X and Linux at www.mozilla.org) is an unlikely rival, developed by a small nonprofit group with extensive volunteer help. Its code dates to Netscape and its open-source successor, Mozilla, but in the two years since Firefox debuted as a minimal, browser-only offshoot of those sprawling suites, it has grown into a remarkable product.
Firefox displays an elegant simplicity within and without. Its toolbar presents only the basic browsing commands: back, forward, reload, stop, home. Its Options screen consists of five simple categories of settings -- most of which don't need adjusting, since the defaults actually make sense.
One in particular should delight many long-suffering Web users: Firefox blocks pop-up ads automatically.
But Firefox's security goes deeper than that. It doesn't support Microsoft's dangerous ActiveX software, which gives a Web site the run of your computer. It omits IE's extensive hooks into the rest of Windows, which can turn a mishap into a systemwide meltdown.
Firefox resists "phishing" scams, in which con artists lure users into entering personal info on fake Web pages, by making it easier to tell good sites from bad. When you land on an encrypted page -- almost no phishing sites provide this protection -- Firefox advertises that status by highlighting the address bar in yellow. It also lists that page's domain name on the status bar; if that doesn't match what you see in the address bar, you're probably on a phishing site.
To keep Firefox current with any security fixes, the browser is designed to check for updates automatically.