Mozilla: The King of All Browsers?

Mozilla is the open-source monster spun off by Netscape in a desperate attempt to harness the passion of thousands of Microsoft-hating geeks to build a better browser.

It took years longer than anyone anticipated, but they finally got the code to the point where it could be released, thus spawning the lackluster Netscape 6.0 browser. Mozilla itself took years to break the 1.0 mark (which many in the developer community shrugged off as an insignificant, arbitrary milestone), but when it did it proved to be worth the wait.

The current build — Mozilla 1.1 — is the basis for the new Netscape 7 browser (which lets it beat Microsoft to the version “7” release, never mind that they had to skip over version 5 to do it). But while the Netscape browser continues to offer no compelling reasons to switch from IE, its kissing cousin Mozilla does.

More and more often I’m hearing from my web development friends and general purpose geeks that their switching to Mozilla. Why? There are two primary reasons:

  • The Pop-Up Killer
  • Tabbed Browsing

I could add “philosophy” as a third, but I’m not talking about folks who embrace the hard-core utopian neo-communisim of open source against the vile evil of Microsoft’s proprietary Windows empire [wipes away the sarcasm dripping down his screen]. No, I’m talking about tech addicts looking for the best browsing experience possible, the kind of folks who abandoned Netscape in droves because Microsoft Internet Explorer was simply a better browser (and encouraged everyone else to follow them).

Of the two reasons I did list, The Pop-Up Killer is probably the single biggest non-Microsoft-hating reason that people use Mozilla. Using the browsers advanced preferences, you can disable various kinds JavaScript programs. It’s JavaScript that’s responsible for the Scourges of the Net (and I say that in all seriousness) that are Pop-Up Ads.

Pop-ups have gone beyond mere nuisance. At this point in the Net’s evolution, their navigational and usability hazards, doing nothing to promote the products they hawk while still managing to disrupt users otherwise peaceful surfing. And that’s just the mundane ones!

Anyone who’s ever veered onto the seedier side of the net knows what it’s like to get caught in a barrage of XXX pop-ups so intense that your only alternative is to shut down your computer. And then there’s all “pop after” ads that CNN likes so much — the ones that appear after you close out of the site, usually with just long enough of a delay for you to have launched a different program, thus forcing your attention back to the browser as the program in focus switches.

With Mozilla, pop-ups are a thing of the past. Disabling the scripts prevents them from appearing in their entirety, and in and of itself, that’s almost enough reason to quit. I should not that Netscape 7, while based on the same source code as Mozilla, does not let you kill pop-ups. That’s undoubtedly the influence of Netscape’s parent company, AOL Time Warner, which is one of the greatest pop-up offenders this side of “Debbie Does Digital”.

The other killer function in Mozilla is tabbed browsing. In normal browsers, when you want to surf two or three pages at the same time, you need to open two or three separate browser windows. Keeping track of these windows can be a real pain in the put, as can switching between them. A browser that supports tabbed windows (at this point that’s Netscape, Opera, and Mozilla) allows you to load the three pages in the same browser window. They don’t all appear at the same time — rather they’re stacked, like documents in a filing cabinet. Each page is marked by a tab, and you can easily switch between web pages by clicking on said tabs.

For power users like me, who spend a good portion of their day online, this is a godsend. I loved tabbed-browsing when I was messing around with Opera, and its something I really missed in Internet Explorer. Tabs let me surf the Net more efficiently, and combined with the Pop-Up Killer, provides a very pleasant user experience.

Like Netscape, Mozilla offers custom browser “themes”, which is a nice feature for Rush-loving individualists like me. There aren’t very many of them at this point, but the catalog is slowly growing.

I can’t comment on the browser’s e-mail and newsgroup capabilities — I use Apple’s Mail program on my Mac and Outlook on my PC, and have no great desire to switch either. The university I work at is switching to Mozilla for e-mail though, so I’ll be able to offer a more informed opinion in a few months.
I’ve had a few problems with cutting and pasting from Mozilla to other applications (particularly things like passwords into an FTP program) and I’ve found it runs very slow on my G3 iBook but it works fine on the rest of my machines.

All in all, Mozilla is a damn fine browser, and one that just might start to snag users away from Internet Explorer (at least until Microsoft gets wise and ads tabs to IE).

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