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Firefox unleashed


Open source software hit another big milestone yesterday–Mozilla Firefox is officially out of beta and released in version 1.0. Better yet, it’s taking off like a rocket–with over 1,000,000 downloads on the first day of release (!) and widespread coverage in the mainstream media, from CNN to the BBC to Al-Jazeera (!!).

If you’re not already familiar with Firefox, you can find out more about the project and its goals, see Ben Goodger’s Firefox 1.0 – Signed, sealed, and delivered. This milestone is especially exciting because Firefox is far and away one of the best FLOSS projects aimed at consumers. Not only does it successfully serve as a replacement for its leading competitor (also known as evil), but exceeds it in both features and user interface design. Whereas Internet Exploder became a merely competant browser (albeit one with broken style sheet support) by version 6.0 and then simply stopped, Firefox continues to make small, important, and delightful improvements. A small but pleasant case in point: Firefox 1.0 ditches the big, clunky Find dialogue–you know, the one that pops up when you press Ctrl-F and that you have to keep moving with your mouse in order to see the text you’re searching for. To find text on a webpage in Firefox 1.0, you can just start typing and a small, unobtrusive toolbar appears at the bottom of your screen with the text you are searching for in it. Alternatively, you can press Ctrl-F and the same toolbar will pop up, ready for you to type in it.

I cite that not because it’s really a huge deal–it’s not, although trimming the amount of time wasted on unnecessary dialogue boxes means a much more pleasant computing experience than you might guess off the top of your head–but rather because it’s one of a million improvements, some of them small (like ditching the Find dialogue or support for RSS/Atom based Live Bookmarks) and others much larger (such as tabbed browsing and ad blocking) that make the web so much more of a joy to use with Mozilla Firefox than with Internet Exploder. So go get Firefox if you haven’t already. (If you’ve already got 1.0 preview release, you should still pick up the official 1.0; there are a few minor tweaks and improvements worth having.)

As far as software reviews go, this has been something of a fluff piece; I don’t have any real detailed comments on the release that haven’t already been said better elsewhere. (I do have some thoughts on the companion almost-out-of-beta 0.9 release of Mozilla Thunderbird–but that’s another geek-out for another day.) But I would like to take a moment to say how exciting it is to see how much effort is going into producing a really good piece of software in the open source world, and to see CNN or the Beeb discussing the organization and motivations behind a FLOSS product. Firefox is rapidly taking territory in a battle that everyone thought was over; it’s applying solid user interface design principles and showing that open source software can not only replace proprietary desktop applications, but exceed them in every respect. As Firefox moves forward–promoting web standards as it goes, incidentally–we are moving further towards building free tools for a free culture. Every download is another support voluntarily kicked out from under the bloated Behemoth of government-protected intellectual monopolists–a blow against Behemoth without setting Leviathan to battle against it. So give it a download, and keep on rocking in the free world.

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