[HCS-D]Firefox advocacy in the NY Times

Matt Gline gline at fas.harvard.edu
Tue Dec 21 03:40:36 EST 2004


::cough:: and the Harvard Crimson

Published on Monday, December 20, 2004
Happ e-Holidays
An internet-related gift from your author

By MATTHEW A. GLINE

 In the spirit of the holidays, I have decided to give you, my loyal
readers, a gift. Before you get too excited, I should confess that Im
cheap, and there are a lot of you, so Ive opted to give something that
is very inexpensivein fact, its free. For some of you, however, this
gift will change your lives: It will save you from wasted time and
frustration, help you avoid embarrassing trips to the help desk in the
Science Center basementit might even improve your grades and make you
wealthier and more appealing to members of the opposite sex. The gift,
oh ye weary users of Microsoft Internet Explorer (Mac users who browse
with Safari may continue to tune in, but your lot is not quite so dire),
is Mozilla Firefoxan alternate web browser and the answer to your
subconscious prayers.

Its possible some of you have noticed signs you might be in need of a
new browser. Perhaps every time you sit down in front of your computer,
focused and intent on starting research for your ec paper (perhaps by
conducting a game theory study on thefacebook.com), you find yourself
stared in the face by a dozen pop-up windows advertising for home
surveillance cameras designed (if you trust the photos in the ads) to
keep your house safe from the prying eyes and sticky fingers of scantily
clad women. Or perhaps your browser has grown three or four additional
search toolbars and your home page is packed with links to Canadian
pharmacies offering inexpensive generic alternatives to Viagra.

Firefox is more or less free from these plights. For one, its relative
unpopularity makes it an unattractive target for the spammers and
spyware authors that write the code that breaks Internet Explorer. You
might ask, however, if Firefox is unpopular now and we all take your
advice, wont it grow into a big enough target such that it stops passing
under the bad guys radar? Fortunately the browser has quite a bit more
going for it: Released by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, it is an
open-source application created by people who like writing good software
not for financial gain but with the goal of making the Internet a
kinder, gentler place. What open-source means in this context is that
anyone who wants to can look at the code that makes Firefox tick, a
set-up which allows an enormous community of dedicated programmers to
look out for bugs and security holes and generally keep things honest.
Combine this key fact with clever features like an effective pop-up
blocker, and youll find Firefox will continue to be well protected for
quite some time.

I can see where these arguments might leave some of you unconvinced,
however particularly if youre among the lucky few or meticulous elite
who have managed to thus far escape the clutches of evil Internet
con-artists. I could throw in a mention of Firefoxs speed (generally,
its quite a bit faster than Internet Explorer), or of some of its
advanced featureslike tabbed browsingwhich have revolutionized the way
in which I surf the web, but I think even more compelling than these
things is to point out the enormous support Firefox has already garnered
in its short history. After all, at the moment its my word versus that
of Bill Gates, and by the time he was my age hed already founded the
company that would make him the richest man in America.

But Im not alone in my recommendation. For one, 11 million people have
downloaded the browser since its release. And I may very well be the
last tech columnist in the world to jump on the Firefox-praise bandwagon
(Ive been using it myself for quite some time, mind you: Ive just not
been proselytizing). Over the past three months as the browser reached
maturity and was officially released to the public, noted journalists at
the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and hundreds of other well
regarded publications have been singing the praises of Mozillas master
work.

Its even starting to be noticed in the information technology (IT)
private sectorand on university networks like our own. Last week IT
Services at Pennsylvania State University issued an announcement
imploring students to switch from Internet Explorer to a browser like
Firefoxa request they made not on the basis of the comparative ease of
use of the browsers or on the slick new features, but rather because of
their relative security levels. Microsofts browser has been the object
of a large number of security vulnerabilities over the past
monthsvulnerabilities which not only increase the risk that an
individual computer can be compromised but which, as a result, also
drive up traffic levels and strain computing resources on campus
networks as the number of infected machines rises.

So think of Firefox as a stocking stuffer, or a present for the
oft-overlooked ninth night of Hanukkah. While youre sitting around over
break with nothing to do but dream about how relaxed youd be if Harvard
adopted a reasonable academic calendar, surf over to
http://www.mozilla.org in Internet Explorer and download Firefox on me
(isnt my generosity laudable?): It may well be the last page you visit
in Explorer. And if you like it, note that it makes a nice cheap gift to
give to your friends, and one theyll never stop thanking you for.

Matthew A. Gline 06 is a physics concentrator in Quincy House. His
column appears on alternate Mondays. 

(from http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=505208 )
On Tue, Dec 21, 2004 at 12:57:10AM -0500, Gregory Nathan Price wrote:
> Speaking of Firefox advocacy...
> 
> I especially like the line `Your children in college are already using it.' =)
> 
>                 Gregory
> 
> 
> 
> Digital Domain: The Fox Is in Microsoft's Henhouse (and Salivating)
> 
> December 19, 2004
>  By RANDALL STROSS 
> 
> 
> 
>  
> 
> FIREFOX is a classic overnight success, many years in the
> making. 
> 
> Published by the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit group
> supporting open-source software that draws upon the skills
> of hundreds of volunteer programmers, Firefox is a Web
> browser that is fast and filled with features that
> Microsoft's stodgy Internet Explorer lacks. Firefox
> installs in a snap, and it's free. 
> 
> Firefox 1.0 was released on Nov. 9. Just over a month
> later, the foundation celebrated a remarkable milestone: 10
> million downloads. Donations from Firefox's appreciative
> fans paid for a two-page advertisement in The New York
> Times on Thursday. 
> 
> Until now, the Linux operating system was the best-known
> success among the hundreds of open-source projects that
> challenge Microsoft with technically strong, free software
> that improves as the population of bug-reporting and
> bug-fixing users grows. But unless you oversee purchases
> for a corporate data center, it's unlikely that you've felt
> the need to try Linux yourself. 
> 
> 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? 
> 
> Mr. Schare has said that Mozilla's Firefox must prove it
> can smoothly move from version 1.0 to 2.0, and has thus far
> enjoyed "a bit of a free ride." If I were the spokesman for
> the software company that included the company's browser
> free on every Windows PC, I'd be more careful about using
> the phrase "free ride." 
> 
> Trying to strike a conciliatory note, Mr. Schare has also
> declared that he and his company were happy to have Firefox
> as "part of the large ecosystem" of software that runs on
> Windows. In fact, Firefox is ecumenically neutral, being
> available also for both the Mac and for Linux. 
> 
> 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. 
> 
> How fitting that Microsoft finds itself in this
> predicament. In late 1995, at a time when Netscape
> Navigator was synonymous with the Web and Internet Explorer
> had yet to attract many adopters, Microsoft made a risky
> but strategically wise decision to redesign the Internet
> Explorer code from the bottom up - re-architecting, in
> industry jargon. As Michael A. Cusumano of M.I.T. and David
> B. Yoffie of Harvard chronicled in their 1998 book,
> "Competing on Internet Time: Lessons From Netscape and Its
> Battle With Microsoft," that decision meant delaying the
> release of Internet Explorer 3.0, but the resulting product
> was technically far superior to Netscape's Navigator. In
> Browser Wars I, the better browser won. 
> 
> 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.) 
> 
> Bruce Schneier, the chief technical officer of Counterpane
> Internet Security Inc. and an authority on security issues,
> did not hide his anger at Microsoft's claim of having
> improved Internet Explorer. "When my mother gets a prompt
> 'Do you want to download this?' she's going to say yes" he
> said. "It's disingenuous for Microsoft to give you all of
> these tools with which to hang yourself, and when you do,
> then say it's your fault." He lectures his clients (and his
> mother): "Don't use Microsoft Internet Explorer, period."
> He has been using the browser Opera, but having tried
> Firefox declares it "a great alternative." 
> 
> THIS month, officials at Pennsylvania State University
> recommended that students and staff stop using Internet
> Explorer because of persistent security problems. The
> announcement said that "the threats are real, and
> alternatives exist." 
> 
> Stuck with code from a bygone era when the need for
> protection against bad guys was little considered,
> Microsoft cannot do much. It does not offer a new
> stand-alone version of Internet Explorer. Instead, the
> loyal customer must download and install the newest version
> of Service Pack 2. That, in turn, requires Windows XP.
> Those who have an earlier version of Windows are out of
> luck if they wish to stick with Internet Explorer. 
> 
> Mr. Schare of Microsoft does have one suggestion for those
> who cannot use the latest patches in Service Pack 2: buy a
> new personal computer. By the same reasoning, the security
> problems created by a car's broken door lock could be
> solved by buying an entirely new automobile. The analogy
> comes straight from Mr. Schare. "It's like buying a car,"
> he said. "If you want to get the latest safety features,
> you have to buy the latest model." 
> 
> In this case, the very latest model is not a 2001 Internet
> Explorer, but a 2004 Firefox. 
> 
> 
> 
> Randall Stross is a historian and author based in Silicon
> Valley. E-mail:ddomain at nytimes.com. 
> 
> 
> 
> http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/19/business/yourmoney/19digi.html?ex=1104595586&ei=1&en=130ec73a923b49de
> 
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