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October market share recap: IE loses 1%; Firefox, Chrome, and Safari gain

November 1, 2009 12 comments

According to Net Applications, Internet Explorer lost market share in October, while Firefox, Chrome, and Safari gained, and Opera remained steady. And although not all of the data has been reviewed by the QA team, what was interesting was the fact that Google Chrome gained more than any other browser, with a 0.4% increase, which translates to 6.4 million users, assuming there are 1.6 billion online users. This spike for the browser has also appeared in StatCounter’s data. Firefox gained 0.3%, or 4.8 million users, Safari gained 0.16%, or 2.5 million users, and Opera remained steady, with a 0.03% loss, or 480,000 users. All at the cost of Internet Explorer, which lost 1.02%, which is equal to 16 million users switching. This isn’t as big as last month’s loss of 1.5%, 24 million users, which was IE’s biggest loss ever.

Using this market share data, here are the user counts for the major browsers:

  1. Internet Explorer, 1 billion users
  2. Firefox, 385 million users
  3. Safari, 70.4 million users
  4. Google Chrome, 57.1 million users
  5. Opera, 34.6 million users
  6. Netscape, 5.2 million users
Categories: Web Browsers

5 extremely basic things Internet Explorer is missing

October 28, 2009 1 comment

It really is sad how primitive Internet Explorer still is, compared to the other browsers. From its clunky Trident rendering engine, to its somehow “crowded minimalist interface”, to its tab bar that is filled up with three pages open, not to mention all of the security problems under the hood, as well as its lack of web standards support. But there are still a few things that we all expect web browsers to have, but they’re still not integrated into the world’s most used (and bundled) browser.

1. Spell checking.

All decent word processors have a spell checker, and now that more and more people are composing email, blog posts, tweets, and other pieces of writing online, a web browser should also employ the same feature. And Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera do. The dead Netscape Navigator has it. “WorldWideWeb”, the first, I repeat first, web browser, launched in 1991, had spell checking. So, it seems only fair that the browser bundled with 9 out of 10 PCs worldwide should have it. Sadly, it doesn’t.

2. A download manager.

Download managers are simple pieces of software integrated into web browsers that allow users to view a history of files that they have downloaded. They also let you see what files are currently being downloaded. Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera have them, but Internet Explorer does not.

3. Support for SVG images.

A relatively new but already widely supported image format, SVG, a type of vector image format, differs from the leading formats, JPEG, PNG, and GIF, known as raster image formats, in one key way: rather than using pixels to display an image, SVG simply consists of shapes, which can be blown into infinite sizes. Supported by Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera, SVG is a step forward for graphics. It’s too bad Internet Explorer needs an add-on, downloaded separately, to display them.

4. Availability in a wide range of languages.

Internet Explorer is currently available in 33 different languages. That may seem like a lot, but take this into account: Firefox is available in 75 different languages. Google Chrome is available in 50. Epiphany, a Mozilla-powered (soon to be WebKit powered) web browser that comes with some distributions of Linux, is available in 70 different languages. Maxthon, an IE-based web browser that runs on the same layout engine, supports 42 different languages. Opera is available in 40. Safari only supports 14, probably due to the poor reception of Macs outside the United States. Internet Explorer may not be really be completely behind the pack on this one, but a browser included on almost all PCs throughout the world needs to be available in a large number of languages.

5. The ability to be cleanly uninstalled.

Internet Explorer is embedded deep into the Windows operating system, making it almost impossible to completely uninstall. And after facing numerous lawsuits and repeated criticism for that reason, it looks like there’s hope: IE8 can be disabled, but not uninstalled, in Windows 7. This is a step in the right direction, and adding the option to completely uninstall IE might not be optimal, as there is still a significant bias on the web leaning towards Microsoft and Trident.

There may be more to this list, too. If you’ve thought of something that I forgot, be sure to leave it in the comments!

Categories: Web Browsers

Love Firefox but prefer Chrome’s style? Get Chromifox

September 28, 2009 2 comments

In the past, web browsers have usually had a relatively crowded interface, just look at Opera 5. The UI typically included all of the common web browsing tasks (back, forward, stop, refresh/reload, home) and more (bookmarks, history, print, new window, search, email…).

But now a more minimalist standard is evolving, and it has already been adopted by Google Chrome and Safari. The new type of layout contains only the most basic web browsing tasks in the smallest amount of objects (reload and stop are often the same button). The rest of the options are consolidated into a “tools” or “page” menu. Judging by its adoption, users like this new generation of browser interface.

So here’s the dilemma: you love Firefox, like me, but want Google Chrome’s slick style, instead of the native “Strata” theme. Here’s how you can make Firefox look almost exactly like Chrome…while still being able to use all of your favorite add-ons.

Step 1: Get Chromifox Basic

Chromifox Basic does a good job at converting Firefox’s graphics to look like those of Chrome. But you’ll need to go through a few more steps to make it look¬†truly¬†like Google’s browser.

Step 2: Get Total ReChrome

Total ReChrome (which requires Chromifox Basic) will add some finishing touches to Firefox. It will move the tab bar to the top of the window, and move the star (for bookmarking a page) to the other side of the location bar.

Step 3: Move around a few buttons and get rid of the search bar

First, remove the search bar and home button. Then, remove any add-on buttons that may be on the navigation bar (such as AdBlockPlus, IE Tab, Flashblock…). Drag the “Stop” button to the far right of the screen (don’t worry, it will be merged with the “Go” button).

This is what the finished product should look like:

Firefox_as_Chrome

Versus Google Chrome itself:

Chrome_as_itself

Very similar, eh? Have fun!

Categories: Web Browsers

CCK Wizard for Firefox: perfect for companies and organizations

September 26, 2009 1 comment

Firefox has historically received criticism from companies and organizations due to the fact that a customization kit was not available. These tools allow administrators to preload bookmarks, homepages, preferences, plug-ins, and add-ons to the browser, as well as block certain features, such as settings. Being available with Internet Explorer, IE has often been the browser of choice when it comes to businesses. (That and the fact that many businesses run primarily on Microsoft software).

The CCK Wizard for Firefox changes that. This lightweight add-on allows you to create an XPI file that customizes Firefox to your organization’s needs. It does everything I listed above, and more. Replace the native animated circle (shown when a page is loading) with your company’s logo spinning around. Create a web page that only appears when the user opens Firefox for the first time, introducing them to some of the basic features and aspects of the browser. Or a page that appears when Firefox has updated, explaining why this is step is so important. Block the about:config page, which, while it can be used for some advanced tricks, could undermine Firefox’s security and stability when utilized incorrectly. Change the browser’s name, from “Mozilla Firefox” to something like “Mozilla Firefox: Example, Inc Edition” or “Example, Inc Browser.” Add a link to your own support page, blog, or any website in the Help menu.

I’m against “locking down” a browser with the user powerless to change the settings. But if your organization is choosing between Firefox or IE, with plans on partially or completely restricting access to settings, at least opt for a decent browser. The open source community has continued to push products such as Firefox and OpenOffice.org being used in businesses and non-profits. And they are succeeding. There is currently an effort within the State Department to let members use Firefox. And a popular ad for Firefox titled “Double Click Relief” promoted the use of Firefox in businesses (I’m pretty sure the 1 in 10 statistic is not real).

Anyway, here’s how you can use the CCK wizard to create a customized version of Firefox:

  1. Download and install the add-on at the Mozilla Add-ons for Firefox website.
  2. Once installed, restart your browser. Go to Tools > CCK Wizard.
  3. Create a new file by typing in a name and selecting a locaton.
  4. Begin entering settings. Note: For the update public key, I used “3.5”. I successfully checked for updates but did not install a new update, as I was already running on the latest version. More info.
  5. After completing the wizard, look for the XPI file that was created in the directory you specified. Once you know where it is, in Firefox, go to File > Open File. Locate and select the XPI file, and click Open. Click install on the prompt that comes up.
  6. The next time you open Firefox, it should be running on your customized version.
Categories: Web Browsers

According to a recent test, Internet Explorer 8 is the best browser at protecting users from malware. Not so fast…

August 18, 2009 1 comment

According to a recent test by a company called NSS Labs, Internet Explorer 8 beat the competition as far as preventing users from going to websites that distribute malware. By a lot.

IE8 was able to protect users from 80% of sites that attempted to trick users into deliberately downloading malware. Firefox 3 was second with 27% accuracy. Safari 4 scored 21%, Chrome 2 scored 7%, and the Opera 10 Beta scored a mere 1%.

There are a few things I’d like to highlight. First of all, the test only covered sites that try to trick the user into downloading malware, or “trojans.” Sites that distribute programs that don’t, or secretly do more, than the user expects (such as a program that claims to be a game, but is in fact a backdoor that allows a hacker to gain access to your computer).

This was a good category to choose, but it’s only a fraction of what needs to be tested in order to determine the overall security of a browser. The big things, in my opinion? Exploits and drive-by downloads. Rick Moy, the president of NSS labs, said that these were left out because of the risk of infecting test computers (sandboxing and other technologies were utilized to protect computers from malware on the tested sites).

From what I know, I could guess the threat of exploits could be mitigated via methods such as going to flagged websites with a computer running a less used operating system such as Linux or BSD, which is presumably immune to the effects of the vast majority of exploits out there. More so, the computers could easily run a live version of a rare operating system off a CD or external drive. Although less stable, they could avoid installing these softwares thus preserving the native OS and configuration.

There are a few things I noticed when looking through the report:

  • The analysis strictly focused on how effectively browsers were able to warn the user about the site. On page 3, NSS noted that the study did not cover actual vulnerabilities in plugins or the browsers themselves. In other words, the test didn’t cover Internet Explorer’s internal security issues, or, more importantly, it’s highly vulnerable native ActiveX support, which poses the biggest risk for IE users.
  • After testing a number of sites, NSS finally decided to test just over 600 websites that distributed malware in this fashion. I would feel better about the accuracy of the study if that number had been well over 1,000, or beyond.
  • NSS tested Mozilla Firefox 3.0, instead of 3.5, the latest version, which has major improvements in its anti-malware protection. I think it was kind of odd that they decided to test the Opera 10 beta, which is newer than the current stable version of Opera, but not Firefox 3.5, the newest stable release.

I get a Google Alert every day with a harvest of Firefox and Mozilla-related news articles. In the past few days, I’ve been seeing headlines (from lesser-known and presumably less credible sources) such as “Microsoft leads browsers in malware defense.” Saying that, you’d be ignoring the fact that Internet Explorer has been and is considered far less secure by numerous security experts and writers when compared to alternative browsers, Firefox especially.

So in conclusion, IE can not be considered superior security-wise because of one test covering one fraction of what needs to be analyzed in order to determine the overall security of a browser. I hope NSS, or another testing company provide some more tests giving more insight into which browsers are more secure.

Categories: Security, Web Browsers

Firefox reaches a billion downloads

August 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Sorry this is late, but, Firefox has reached a billion downloads!

The official SpreadFirefox download counter and the unofficial 7is7 Firefox Download Counter hit one billion downloads at 11 AM Eastern (8 AM Pacific) on July 31.

To dispel any doubts that Firefox has not reached a billion downloads and that Mozilla is lying (which I can never see them doing), the independent market share reports by companies like Net Applications and StatCounter confirm the download count.

Every time a new version of Firefox comes out (entirely new versions, not just updates), each user must download the upgrade from Mozilla’s website (and market shares show that almost all of them do). Firefox currently has about 300 million users (also confirmed by the market shares), a number that has consistently increased over the years. If you look at the approximate historical Firefox usage, these upgrades account for most of the download total. The rest are people who already use Firefox who are installing it, for example, on their work computer, or second computer (or even a third…fourth…).

Well, anyway, congratulations Mozilla! According to the unofficial Download Guesstimator, Firefox is can be expected to reach 2 billion downloads in April 2011. However, this is based off of data from the past 2 weeks, a timeframe short enough to predict downloads for the next few months, but not years. Plus, new competitors in the browser market (or ones going away for that matter), new Firefox releases, media attention, and other variables could dramatically change that date.

Categories: Web Browsers

Firefox to reach a billion downloads soon — probably tomorrow

July 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Mozilla Firefox is about to reach a billion downloads, and will probably hit the milestone tomorrow. According to the unofficial Firefox Guestimator, Firefox is going to reach the billion download mark at around 11:49 UTC (7:49 AM Eastern), although the exact time will depend on download activity in Europe and Asia. Right now the download counter stands at 999,024,648.

Reaching 1,000,000,000 downloads has never been accomplished by any non-bundled browser, and really is, in my opinion, a historic event. I’m getting up at 5:30 or 6:00 tomorrow to see the SpreadFirefox download counter reach 1,000,000,000. Mozilla will also launch a website, OneBillionPlusYou.com, showcasing photos of people in Firefox gear in front of landmarks.

Categories: Web Browsers