Once I turned my back on Internet Explorer, I never looked back.
Except for times when I use one online database that supports Microsoft's dismal excuse for a browser, I never have much use for the blue lower-case "e" on my desktop. And more people now agree with me than ever before.
I've already shared in this column my affection for the open source browser that used to be called Firebird but is now known as Firefox. It is, in my estimation, the very best Web browser in existence. I use it not only on my Windows machine, but on my two Apple Macintosh computers at home, even to the exclusion of Apple's own browser, Safari.
Firefox had been in developmental releases only -- numbered as versions 0.8 and 0.9 in order to indicate that it was still a work in progress. Even so, it has quickly become the best thing to happen to the Web in a long time and should probably cause browser developers in Redmond to start taking notes -- fast. It is available for free at Mozilla.
Now it's hit a milestone, version 1.0, which is a preview release, which is another way to say that it's still not finished, but is getting there. One day it will take over as flagship browser of the Mozilla Foundation, which took over many of the pieces of the original Netscape browser that is still owned by Time Warner America Online.
As before, Firefox is a stripped down, streamlined rebuild of Mozilla, which has over the years devolved into a huge bit of bloatware. From the very beginning with Firefox you will notice a faster, cleaner feel to your browsing, as though you're surfing the Web having lost that beer gut from college.
Still supported is the tabbed browsing feature, which will become a quick favorite if you've never used it before. All your browser windows actually live inside a single window, each demarcated by tabs that you can click in and out of easily, which allow you to keep track of them. This was a great feature of the original Mozilla, and it's also supported in Safari and another browser, Opera.
Pop-up ads are also easily blocked. In this new version, I've noticed the program tells me when it has blocked an ad on a particular site, though now and then one still gets through. It's imperfect, but better than Explorer, which requires buggy add-on software created by third parties to block pop-ups in all their annoying iterations.
Searching via Google is built right into the upper right hand corner, which is also true of Apple's Safari. But there are many free add-ons for searching Amazon or eBay or UPS, to name just a few, directly from that same corner search area.
But probably the best new feature is one that Mozilla calls "live bookmarks." If you're one of the smarter Web users out there, you know how much RSS feeds can cut down on time spent checking sites you read regularly. As I noted here earlier this year, (see: "The Coming RSS Revolution") many sites -- including Forbes.com -- are now serving up RSS feeds as a way to give frequent readers an easy way to keep track of new stuff they've just published.
When Firefox sees a site with an RSS feed, a little orange tag lights up in the lower right hand corner of the browser window. Clicking it gives you a new bookmark that changes as the content of that site changes. Dragging down to that "live bookmark" leads to a menu of headlines of new stories. Selecting one takes you directly to the story you want, without having had to go to the trouble of first visiting that particular site and rifling through its headlines. (It only sounds complicated in my description. Trust me.)
Still, this feature didn't work with every RSS feed I found. It worked with some of Yahoo's feeds, for instance, but not all of them, making me think this feature, which is pretty new for Firefox, still needs some work.
But overall I like it much better than any other browser I've used. I've said it before and I will say it again: Microsoft's Explorer may indeed still command the vast majority of the Web browser market. But the "Browser Battle" is on again. Microsoft should be watching Firefox carefully because Firefox is better than Explorer by leaps and bounds. I don't miss Explorer one iota. Give Firefox a day's worth of Web surfing, and you won't either.