The Fox Is in Microsoft's Henhouse (and Salivating)
With Firefox, open-source software moves from back-office obscurity to your home, and to your parents', too. (Your children in college are already using it.) It is polished, as easy to use as Internet Explorer and, most compelling, much better defended against viruses, worms and snoops.
Microsoft has always viewed Internet Explorer's tight integration with Windows to be an attractive feature. That, however, was before security became the unmet need of the day. Firefox sits lightly on top of Windows, in a separation from the underlying operating system that the Mozilla Foundation's president, Mitchell Baker, calls a "natural defense."
For the first time, Internet Explorer has been losing market share. According to a worldwide survey conducted in late November by OneStat.com, a company in Amsterdam that analyzes the Web, Internet Explorer's share dropped to less than 89 percent, 5 percentage points less than in May. Firefox now has almost 5 percent of the market, and it is growing.
Gary Schare, Microsoft's director of product management for Windows, has been assigned the unenviable task of explaining how Microsoft plans to respond to the Firefox challenge with a product whose features were last updated three years ago. He has said that current users of Internet Explorer will stick with it once they take into account "all the factors that led them to choose I.E. in the first place." Beg your pardon. Choose? Doesn't I.E. come bundled with Windows?
And a telling reality from Gary Schare, Microsoft's director of product management for Windows:
Mr. Schare may be the official spokesman, but he does not use Internet Explorer himself. Instead he uses Maxthon, published by a little company of the same name. It uses the Internet Explorer engine but provides loads of features that Internet Explorer does not. "Tabs are what hooked me," he told me, referring to the ability to open within a single window many different Web sites and move easily among them, rather than open separate windows for each one and tax the computer's memory. Firefox has tabs. Other browsers do, too. But fundamental design decisions for Internet Explorer prevent the addition of this and other desiderata without a thorough update of Windows, which will not be complete until 2006 at the earliest.
Today, it's the Internet Explorer code that is long overdue for a top-to-bottom redesign, one that would treat security as integral, and Firefox is the challenger with new, clean code. Netscape bequeathed its software to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, which used an open-source approach to undertake a complete rewrite that took three years. Firefox is built upon the Mozilla base.
All Microsoft can offer Internet Explorer users are incremental security improvements, new patches to fix holes in the old patches. In Windows XP Service Pack 2, the company claimed as a major security advance a notice that is displayed if the user takes an action within Internet Explorer that sets off a download of a tiny application called an ActiveX control, which can take control of your PC and, in a worst-case instance, erase your hard drive. "Users still must make informed decisions," Mr. Schare added. (With Firefox, users do not have to make decisions about these miniprograms, which are blocked by design.)
Via The New York Times