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Battle of the Browsers

Firefox vs. IE7: The Fox takes the grudge match. After years of watching Firefox slowly chip away at their market share, Microsoft has finally released an updated browser that does (almost) everything that Firefox can do–but, if you’ve already switched to Firefox, is it worth switching back to Internet Explorer?

Firefox won over legions of Web surfers by being safer, quicker, and more configurable than Internet Explorer. In fact, Microsoft’s browser has long been the target of malware (malicious software that can often change your home page, add new toolbars, and generally make your online existence a small nightmare) and other security concerns. Though Firefox has its vulnerabilities, it’s much safer and secure than IE, and offers enhancements such as tabbed browsing (browser pages in tabs rather than multiple open windows) and a built-in RSS (really simple syndication) reader.

Internet Explorer 7, still in beta as of this writing, will also offer tabbed browsing and built-in RSS support. And, also like Firefox, you’ll be able to choose which search engine your browser automatically uses. IE will also offer add-ons similar to the extensions Firefox has become famous for, but very few were available for testing as of press time.

More important than tabbed browsing and search engine optimization is security, and IE finally seems to be tackling that issue as well. Several gaping security holes have reportedly been patched up, and the final version of IE7 should be much less vulnerable to attacks and viruses than was version six.

So if you’ve switched from IE to Firefox, will you want to switch back? Perhaps. IE now resembles Firefox cosmetically as well as in the features it boasts, but Firefox, which will soon be releasing version 2 of its browser, is still ahead of the game. And if Firefox is working for you, why mess with success?

Extend-a-Fox

The heart of Firefox is its users, and nowhere does that show more than in the extensions its most loyal fans have made available. Sure, there’s the Google and Yahoo toolbars, but there are also a plethora of others add-ons that you may realize you just can’t live without.

One of my favorites is Morning Coffee. Even though I swore off caffeine years ago, my mornings aren’t complete without this extension. The add-on installs a little coffee cup symbol on your toolbar and, once you click it, your favorite sites open in tabs. You can customize it to open different sites on different days, to close already-open tabs before opening, or even to open the sites at random.

The idea is this: We all have Web sites we check every morning, such as news, your favorite blog, sports scores, eBay bids, new sites reviewed on StumbleUpon, or fresh videos uploaded to YouTube. Clicking on the coffee cup opens these sites for you, helping you to start off your morning right. And second helpings are only a mouse-click away.

Color me Delighted

As a Web designer, another extension I get a lot of use out of is Colorzilla. This simple utility installed a tiny eyedropper in the left bottom corner of your screen. Need to know the color value of an image on the Web? Just click on the dropper and then hover over a color to see not only the RGB values but the HTML value as well. It’s a heck of a lot quicker than opening up the file in Paint Shop Pro and clicking the paint palette!

Hue and Cry

I like colors, OK? I’ll admit it. And there’s no better way to spice up your Firefox browser tabs than with Colorful Tabs. Install this tiny extension and Firefox will mark each tab with a different color. Not only does it help you differentiate between those six or seven different tabs you constantly keep open, it also brings a little color into your browser.

Watching the Tube

Seen the chubby kid playing with the light saber? How about the kitten enjoying a fresh and buttery corn on the cob? If you’ve seen these videos, chances are you’ve seen them on YouTube.com. And if you’re a frequent visitor to the Web site, you’re going to love the YouTube.com toolbar.

This extension allows you to search for videos right from your toolbar, view files based on popularity, see the newest offerings upload to the site, and more. Sure, you can do all these things simply by visiting the site, but it’s fun to have all the options embedded into Firefox and available right at your fingertips. One quick search is all it takes to delve into an afternoon of zoning out on “Star Wars “parodies, “Napoleon Dynamite” dance scenes, and thousands of contenders for “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

You Could Look it up

I love all of the extensions mentioned above, but the one I truly couldn’t live without is FastDic. FastDic is a dictionary extension that provides a fast way to lookup words in an online dictionary. Hold the Alt, Ctrl or Shift keys and click any word in any web page. The word is automatically selected by the extension and the word’s definition is displayed pen in a new tab, window or sidebar. You can specify which online sources (www.dictionary.com or www.wikipedia.com, for example) to use as well as whether the definition opens in a tab or a new windows. Expand your vocabulary while browsing!

All of these extensions can be found via Tools>Extensions>Get More Extensions on your Firefox menu, or online.

Contributing Editor Joe DeRouen writes Windows Advisor monthly for ComputerUser.

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