Firefox: It’s free! Now discover the 6 other reasons why you should be using it

Firefox logo

Don’t use Internet Explorer unless you have no choice

Unless you’re new to computers and the Internet, you’ve probably heard of Firefox by now. It’s a web browser, a program you use to look at the Internet on your computer. Firefox was released late 2004, coming from a long heritage of browsers before it (Netscape and Mozilla). It’s highly regarded around the world, and the latest version is 3.0. Millions of people use it every day. Why? Let’s see…

First impressions of Firefox

The first good bit: Firefox is free (see: Why is Firefox free?) It only takes a few minutes to download Firefox over an average home Internet connection. After the simple installation process, Firefox can helpfully import your Internet settings. So you don’t have to spend ages getting it working.

Once you’ve got Firefox, what’s it like to use? For anyone used to Internet Explorer (the default browser on Windows, also know as IE, or ‘that big blue e Internet thingy’) - here’s some good news: Firefox looks pretty similar albeit with minor additions. The important functions are all in the same place, so no big suprises. Firefox has a Help system to explain the differences, but you probably won’t even need it. Plus, Firefox has some brilliant extras that IE doesn’t have…

So what extra things can Firefox do?

Firefox add-ons panel

A lot! Firefox has a feature called add-ons. These are extensions - free extra components you can add to Firefox to make it do more things; and themes, which cange Firefox’s colours and icons so it looks the way you want. There are over 5,000 add-ons available - see this page called Firefox: One size Doesn’t Fit All for a guide on how you can customise Firefox.

But even without any add-ons, Firefox has some impressive and handy features out-of-the-box…

The in-page search system (Find box)

Firefox's one-keystroke Find boxStudents, journalists, researchers, and anyone who needs to find information quickly will like this. Just tap the / key and start typing a phrase. Firefox jumps straight to the first mention of that phrase on the current page, AS YOU TYPE. It also highlights all mentions of the phrase. It’s so much faster and more useful than Control+F - you have to try it to believe it! Once you get used to it, you’ll instinctively try to use it in other browsers (then find you can’t, because they don’t have this feature!). I use it all the time.

The search box

Firefox search boxThere’s also a search box near the top right of Firefox’s window. You can type in here to find stuff on Amazon, eBay, and Google - and you can add other places, like Wikipedia and IMDB. This saves you having to visit all those sites when you want to look for something specific. I use this a lot to look up places on Wikipedia (a popular online encyclopedia).

Safari - the default browser on Apple Mac computers - also has a search box, but it’s limited to searching via Google - which is has its drawbacks.

Tabbed browsing

Ever wanted to open several websites at a time and quickly switch between them? You’ll like this. Each new page or website you visit can create a new tab in a rowof tabs just above the page. This row of tabs keep all the sites you’re currently looking at within one window, like tabbed separators in a paper folder allowing you to jump around to where you want. You just click on the relevant tab to switch back to a different site.

So your screen doesn’t get cluttered up with windows which would make it hard to go back to an important page you kept open in the background. To be fair, all modern browsers now have tabbed browsing capabilities, but Firefox helped make tabs popular.

Pop-up blocker

Have you ever had special offers, requests to join newsletters, or cascades of advert windows, the moment you visit a page or try to leave? This feature stops that. Most other browsers now have pop-up blocking capabilities too, but Firefox’s pop-up blocker doesn’t need any extra plugins, and works so well you’ll forget how annoying pop-ups were, since (like me) you won’t ever see any.

So Firefox has some neat tricks, but a more important question is this:

Is Firefox right for you?

If you: Then here’s the verdict:
are confused, or don’t care about all this technology.

Firefox is a replacement for that blue e icon (called Internet Explorer) that you click on when you want to get on the Internet and read your hotmail. The thing is, Internet Explorer isn’t really safe at all.

Firefox is free, easy to use and will make your PC work better. Meaning it won’t go wrong or annoy you as much, so you’ll save money by not having to call an expert to keep fixing your computer so much. So get Firefox and start using it today!

don’t like adverts and pop-up windows

Virtually all browsers now have the capability to pop-up windows. Avant browser (for Windows, see below) and Camino (Mac-only) also both have simple ad-blockers buit in. So go into the settings/options/preferences and turn them on - usually you find this in the Tools, Options or Edit menu, depending on your browser.

However Firefox has hands-down, the best advert-blocker in the form of the free Adblock Plus extension. It’s the first thing I add after I install Firefox, and I don’t browse the Internet without it. Check it out, and you’ll soon find out why…

use an IE-based browser, like Avant browser, Maxathon, NeoWin…

Your browser may have a few more features out-of-the-box than Firefox does, but Firefox has thousands of add-ons. Your browser works well with sites designed for IE. Because your browser is IE - it uses the same engine. That’s the problem! This quote from is Avant’s own site: “Since it’s based on Internet Explorer, Avant Browser is as secure as Internet Explorer”. That’s like saying “we have a team of highly-trained security guards, but they’re all deaf and blind”.

Avant’s cool extra features were innovative 5 years ago, but now other browsers - even IE - have mostly caught up. If do you like Avant (apparently it’s relatively popular in northern Europe) then check out their new browser, called Orca. It’s like Avant, but based on Firefox’s engine, making it safer and faster.

If you continue using Avant/Maxathon/Neowin or anything else based on IE, you should go into the browser’s option screen and crank up the security level (specifically: disable ActiveX by default for sites you don’t trust). Also keep downloading Microsoft’s security patches, be careful online, and hope you never get caught out. I’d still recommend you try Firefox - it’s safer by design, and its add-ons make it way more flexible and pleasant to use.

use Opera as your web browser Great! Stick with Opera - it’s a fine alternative and is supposed to be fast too. I’ve used Opera a little, but didn’t like its interface. Also, Firefox has a greater range of add-ons.
use Chrome by Google

Ah, so you obviously don’t mind adverts, and allowing the largest Internet advertising company to watch your every move online…

Chrome is a new alternative new browser. It’s more stable than IE and faster at displaying complicated pages. Not that that’s saying much. The main advantage of Chrome is that it isn’t IE. Also, Chrome is well-integrated with Google services - which unfortunately makes it all too easy for Google to own and track everything you do online. If you like the look of Chrome, seek out the Chrome theme for Firefox, or Chromium browser (on which Google's Chrome is based).

have an Apple Mac

Safari - the default Mac browser - is fast, safe and simple enough. So keep using it if you’re happy. Pith Helmet is Safari’s comprehensive ad-blocking extension. However, Firefox’s equivalent (Adblock Plus) is easier to use.

Personally I’m sticking to Firefox, mostly because of its extensions. You might like Camino - the simple, free, stylish Mac-only relative of Firefox.

run Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, Suse, etc) You probably already use Firefox and know what you’re doing anyway. Either way, don’t worry about which browser you use.
work for Microsoft, or another large corporation You use Internet Explorer (IE) at work, you probably don’t have a choice anyway…
If your IT department is halfway competent, they should have locked down IE’s security settings, turning off unsafe stuff like unsigned ActiveX in the Internet zone. Just be careful if you’re using IE in the wild (e.g. when visiting customer sites, at home, or otherwise away from your office firewall). In those cases, use Firefox if at all possible.
make websites for a living You already have Firefox to test your sites in, right? Check out Web Developer toolbar (handy inspectors and validators) and Firebug (DOM inspector and Javascript debugger) extensions to make your job easier. I use Firebug myself.

Conclusion

Switch to Firefox, unless you’re happy with a safe alternative like Opera, Camino or Safari. I wouldn’t recommend using Chrome and you shouldn’t use Internet Explorer - or anything based on it - for day-to-day browsing the Internet, unless you have no other choice.

“But IE version 8 has just been released…”

Yes that’s right, but it's still a little too new and flaky for most people to install and use yet. IE8 does do more and tries to be safer than IE7 - for example I hear IE8's anti-phishing system is quite good. It has extensions too, sort of. Even Microsoft have admitted it’s easier to make extensions for Firefox though. The bottom line is that IE8 is still IE, so it still has insecure ActiveX at its heart. Meaning it never will be safe.

Why safe is important

Why does safe matter for a browser? What does not safe really mean here? It means you’re making it easy for organised criminals to take over your computer, automatically, to do their bidding. Just by clicking the wrong like or visiting a compromised website, IE will download and run malicious software without telling you, thanks to a Microsoft technology called Active X.

The idea behind Active X was to make websites more interactive - by giving them a hooks to control your PC more directly. Microsoft's Windows Update site, some banks, and many internal company websites (intranets) use Active X. But on the open Internet, Active X is just ASKING for trouble. Of course, Microsoft provide security settings, patches and site blacklists you can use to limit your potential risks. But it all smacks of the old saying: "we're too busy mopping the floor to turn off the taps". Because there’s a constant arms-race amongst hackers to find new ways around any security restrictions.

You’re even vulnerable if you never visit dodgy sites. Maliciously-crafted e-mail messages can screw up your PC, or hackers attack trustworthy, popular sites, injecting malicious code into them causing any visitors using IE to get infected.

If you use IE, you’re far better off deactivating Active X, except for on sites you trust or that specifically require it e.g. Microsoft’s Windows Update. [You can do that by going to Internet Settings, then setting the default security-level to medium-high. Of course, even that won't fully protect you - so JUST STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER]. Other browsers like Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera don’t use Active X at all. Making them several orders of magnitude safer by design.

“But I still don’t want to change”

Maybe you fear changing your browser; you use it due to ingrained habit; you didn’t know there even were alternatives; or just don’t know how to make the switch? Well then that’s exactly WHY YOU SHOULD! Or is it that you’ve got several toolbars in your browser, for fast searching on Google, checking your mail, or keeping up with friends on your social networking site? Firefox has over 5,000 add-ons, so it almost definitely has an equivalent of whatever you use. For more info, see this page on the wide variety of Firefox add-ons.

Whatever your reason, you’ll be glad when you do make the switch - here’s what a few ordinary people like you said after they did:

FireFox makes it a great pleasure being on the net! — Christiaan Tinga, Netherlands

IE always crashed … now my computer never freezes and I have no virus problems. And since I’ve had no virus problems, I don’t have to buy any other programs to keep my computer safe. Thanks — Anon

I have not seen one single pop-up ad, encountered one kernel error, or had my machine freeze up and blue-screen on me. It’s like some kind of miracle medicine for the PC! — Deb

Why you should use Firefox (if you’re not using an alternative to IE)

Remember Firefox is free, quick and easy to install. So you can easily try Firefox for a week and keep it if you like it. But that’s not the only reason - here are six more…

  1. Start using it straight away - it imports your settings, has built-in help, and looks conceptually similar to what you’re used to.
  2. Find what you want instantly - with the in-page find system, and search box up-top
  3. Safer - using IE to browse the Internet is like walking around a big city wearing a big “KICK ME” sign.
  4. Fast, powerful and convenient - start it up and it’ll return to the last page you looked at, if you want
  5. Customisable - choose from over 5,000 add-ons to change its appearance to suit you; or add benefits like blocking adverts, showing you if you have new e-mail waiting, keep up with friends, play music while browsing and much more besides…
  6. Make the Internet a better place - more people using Firefox and other alternatives is good news for everyone- including you!

TV, magazines, newspapers, and websites worldwide; thousands of computer security experts; the University of Bristol in the UK; even the American Government have recommend you switch to Firefox. As at time of writing (3rd May 2009), Firefox has been downloaded 894,537,669 times - and that number grows by over a million a day!! So, make today the day you get Firefox and enjoy online life more.