I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten on the Firefox versus Internet Explorer subject in my newsletter. For a while last year, I beat it to death…
But, recently, in responding to a reader’s question, I mentioned that I recommended Firefox over IE for web browsing. His response was “You Do?”
The reason that I recommend Firefox over Internet Explorer boils down to security while web surfing.
First, there’s the ActiveX issue.
ActiveX is a proprietary Microsoft technology that allows a web site to download a program to your computer via Internet Explorer — and to automatically run that program.
While Microsoft uses the innocuous term “ActiveX Control” for the program, you need to understand that this is a full-fledged program that can do anything on your computer — just like any other program can.
Unfortunately, the adware and spyware guys love this same ActiveX feature — and use it to easily install adware, spyware, or usually “downloaders” (special programs that do nothing but download and install the programs that their masters wish you to run) onto your computer.
Before Windows XP Service Pack 2, Internet Explorer would blithely accept any ActiveX control that a web site wanted to give you.
In my opinion, ActiveX is a prime example of Microsoft’s approach to security for so long. They focused on increasing the user-friendliness and dumbing-down Windows.
That would have been great before we got started on the Internet — or for a computer that wasn’t ever connected to the Internet. But, they lost sight of the fact that the Internet is not always a friendly place.
The other issue is Marketing.
I’m not talking about Microsoft’s marketing practices. I’m talking about the fact that Internet Explorer has 80+% of the Windows web surfing market — and that every Windows-based computer has Internet Explorer installed.
This concentration of potential "customers" — potential targets — makes Internet Explorer the target of choice for virus, spyware, adware and trojan writers.
Why put in all that work for a minor web browser like Firefox (or Opera or Netscape or any of the others)? Focus your efforts on the big market for the biggest response to your efforts.
The same philosophy that works in marketing for businesses (volume, Volume, VOLUME!) works for the malware guys just as easily.
Personally, I use Firefox for all my web surfing. I use Internet Explorer for Microsoft Updates. If I trust a site (say my bank’s site), I might use IE there, too — fortunately, Firefox works there, too.
I recommend all users, especially inexperienced users, use Firefox for web surfing. Use IE only for Microsoft Updates (if you’re still doing Windows Updates, change to Microsoft Updates!).
By the way, your ISP and almost any web site will work with Firefox. When they say that they “support Internet Explorer,” that means that they will help you with connection problems with I.E. — not that they only work with I.E. If you have any problems (and if you trust the site), try I.E. Once you get that working at the site, Firefox will easily follow.