Skip to comments.IE7: Has Firefox Met Its Match?
Posted on 05/08/2006 4:05:13 PM PDT by holymoly
This time next year, if you find yourself using and liking Internet Explorer 7, thank the volunteers at the Mozilla project. The release of Mozilla Firefox 1.0 roughly 18 months ago marked the beginning of a downhill slide for Internet Explorer in both market share and mindshare. After a series of solid and reliable updates, Firefox is, in nearly every category, a better browser than Internet Explorer 6.
The rise of the open source browser was a wake-up call for Microsoft's developers. Having Firefox as a target inspired sweeping changes for Internet Explorer, whose basic interface and core features were overdue for an overhaul. IE7 is a serious attempt to close the gap with Firefox with one long stride. With the official release of IE7 Beta 2 for Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows XP Professional 64-bit Edition, and Windows Server 2003, Microsoft has unveiled a browser that looks much more polished than the beta label suggests. The final release of IE7 is set for later this year.
How well did Microsoft do in its attempt to lure back those who defected to Firefox? For the answer to that question, I compared IE7 Beta 2 on Windows XP with the most recent general release of Firefox, version 188.8.131.52.
Buttons And Bars
By efficiently mixing buttons and menus in a single command bar that shares a row with the tab bar, IE7's page layout provides a bit more room than IE6 or Firefox for viewing the contents of a current page. The traditional top-level menu is hidden (it reappears temporarily with a tap of the alt key). The standard toolbar vanishes, too, shrinking to a much smaller and more compact set of buttons.
The Favorites Center in IE7 combines the Favorites menu and the Explorer Bar in a single drop-down list that can be pinned to the left side of the browser window. Printing is smarter, shrinking pages to fit on a single sheet of paper and offering a preview. One especially innovative feature in IE7 is the Zoom button in the corner of the browser window. Clicking it zooms the entire page, both graphics and text, from 100% to 125% and then 150%. Or you can pick custom zoom levels up to 10 times the original page size.
In these everyday-task areas, IE7 wins. It has a cleaner look than Firefox and is easier to navigate.
One advantage of coming in late to the tabbed browsing party, as Internet Explorer has, is that you get to improve on the ideas of those who've gone before you. IE7's controls for opening, closing, and managing tabbed windows are simpler than those in Firefox, with a button on the tab bar to open a new window and a red X to close the active Web page. Closing a Firefox tab is a potentially awkward two-click operation--annoying enough that most Firefox experts install a tab-browsing extension.
IE7 also provides an easy way to manage a dozen or more open pages. Click the Quick Tabs button to see a thumbnail view of all open tabs. From this window, you can close any tab you no longer need and then switch to a new active tab with a single click. To get similar functionality in Firefox, you need to install an extension such as Viamatic foXpose.
The most powerful argument in favor of Firefox is that it's more secure and less vulnerable than IE to infestations of spyware, viruses, and other forms of malware. Technically, at least, IE7 should level the playing field a bit.
It includes the latest updates to code introduced in Windows XP SP2, which blocks downloads, including ActiveX controls, unless you specifically approve them by clicking the Info Bar and selecting the appropriate menu.
A new URL-parsing module should lessen the impact of specially crafted URLs that exploit flaws in browser code, especially buffer overruns that can lead to malware installation. In theory, the URL parser should be able to identify and discard dangerous URLs before they reach potentially vulnerable code.
With IE7, you manage ActiveX controls and other potentially dangerous browser extensions using the same Manage Add-ons dialog box that was introduced to IE6 with Windows XP SP2. One noteworthy change: A new Delete ActiveX button lets you automatically uninstall an ActiveX control. And a Web page won't be able to use an ActiveX control installed with Windows unless you specifically approve it.
IE7's optional Phishing Filter automatically checks Web sites to see if they look suspicious or are on a list of known sites used by identity thieves, displaying a bright red bar for a known phishing site and a yellow one for suspected but unconfirmed sites. It's too early to say if the filter is a gimmick or offers genuine protection. In limited tests, I found it to be reasonably accurate at identifying the current crop of phishing attempts. But will the criminals who run phishing scams be able to fine-tune their mailings to work around this filter?
That leads to the bigger question about the value of most of the security changes in IE7. Although the new architecture looks good on paper, no one will be able to pronounce IE7 suitably secure until it has survived a year or more without an embarrassing security crisis.
The version of IE7 to be incorporated into Microsoft's upcoming Vista operating system uses the same security improvements as its XP counterpart but adds Protected Mode browsing, in which even trusted add-ons are quarantined and given write access only to a set of virtualized folders. This feature, combined with Windows Vista's strict User Account Control, should make it much tougher for malware to sneak onto a system.
Despite its excellent efforts, IE7 falls short of Firefox in two crucial areas. The first is the ever-expanding library of Firefox extensions, small user-written programs that add features and fix annoyances in the officially released browser. By contrast, the number of add-ons for Internet Explorer is much smaller. Not surprisingly, the tightest levels of integration are between IE7 and Microsoft Office. If you're a fanatic about tweaking and tuning your browser, Firefox offers many more choices.
IE7's Favorites Center goes into drop-down mode.
IE7's Favorites Center goes into drop-down mode. The other critical failing in IE7 is a weak set of password management tools. As in previous versions, IE7 can save a user name and password combo for any Web page. But there's no way to edit saved passwords or copy them to a secure location. By contrast, Firefox lets you view and manage saved passwords; it even imports saved passwords from IE7's protected store.
On a straight feature-for-feature comparison, IE7 stacks up well against Firefox. If its improved security model lives up to its design specs, malware distributors will find it much more difficult to make a dishonest living, and the tabbed browsing features in the new release should make it much easier to deal with multiple pages.
The biggest hurdle Internet Explorer faces is one that doesn't fit on any features chart. Its tattered reputation--especially when it comes to security--has created an indelible negative impression among the technically savvy users who've enthusiastically adopted Firefox. Even if the final release of IE7 improves mightily over the current beta, building that new and improved reputation will be an uphill climb.
I must have a funky version of Firefox. All I have to do to close a tab is click the little "x" to the right of my tabs.
Maybe I'm doing something wrong. ;)
They must be thinking (being Windows users) of right-clicking and closing the tabs.
As usual, the Windows users are only thinking 2-dimensionally.
LOL. Yeah, it works for me too. Someone at IW messed up, I think!
I use Safari. I like it a lot better than Firefox or the Mac equivalent Camino. It just works better to me, and I love that expanding the window only does it enough to show the full page instead of taking up my whole screen.
Yeah, I was thinking that too. Closing the active tab is a one-click process. Perhaps they were thinking about closing inactive tabs without switching to them first, which takes either left click select-left click close or right click-left click close.
Now Safari arguably is better. Each tab has a little X on it that you can click to close that tab whether it is inactive or active.
As does Opera.
You sure are. You're not drinking the Microsoft Kool-Aid.
IE will never be what Firefox is today.
Until IE can give users the option of customizing the browser as Firefox does with Extensions and Themes, it will always be in catch-up mode.
Firefox is as individual as its users. No two are alike. Yet they are all the same.
I don't care what browser MS comes out with. I'm never giving up Firefox. It fits too well.
I think Microsoft's slogan is "our products fit your needs............eventually".
There is an extension that can add this function - Tab X.
I personally use Tab Mix Plus to add this feature, and a host of others.
I have been using IE7 for quite a while now and I like it far more than FF...
The extensions are cool but just a mess to deal with when the extension is no longer compatible with a newer version of FF or the extension isnt being supported any longer.
The more extensions you have, the more of a slug your browser becomes.
I still hate how FF's refresh doesnt take you to the same point on the page but rather further down... I think its a known bug but they just havent addressed it even with their Bon Echo... Thats pretty annoying when you are on a live thread.
I do like FF's RSS live bookmarks. I like the menu dropping down with the RSS feed populating it.
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