Charles Arthur On Technology

'When businesses are being advised to change to more secure browsers, we consumers should change, too'

Back in July, the Computer Emergency Response Team in America - now an arm of the US government - noted a security weakness in Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Among the suggestions CERT made on how to avoid hackers exploiting this weakness was simply to change browser.

That advice has become a mantra. Experts such as Kelly Martin at Securityfocus.com now tell their corporate clients that, for 2005, they need "a plan and timeline to replace Internet Explorer... [with its] dozens and dozens of security flaws" (www.securityfocus.com/printable/columnists/284). When corporations are being urged to change, consumers definitely should.

But to what? In July, about 95 per cent of web surfers used IE. Yet there have always been alternatives. There's the paid-for Opera (which on Windows also handles e-mail). There's Netscape, and Mozilla. More recently, offshoots of the latter have matured: a "pure" browser called Firefox, and a mail reader, Thunderbird. Both recently hit that crucial "1.0" release: they're ready to play in the big leagues.

Unlike Microsoft's offerings (IE and Outlook Express), these are developed by open source methods, so there's no company behind them. Both are free. And both do things their Microsoft rivals cannot - and will not until 2006 at least.

They also do them more securely. While no software offers "total" security (nothing in life is totally "safe"), Firefox and Thunderbird are not the targets of as many hackers as IE and Outlook Express.

Firefox has enjoyed much of the attention so far, with about 11 million downloads. You'll find it at www.mozilla.org/firefox (the 11Mbyte download will strain any dial-up; you may need a friend with broadband and a CD burner, or a magazine cover disc).

Firefox will happily import your IE Favorites. And then the fun begins. It has a built-in pop-up advert blocker (enabled by default). Type some words into the right-hand space in the window's top toolbar and a search on those terms will be done by Google, or Yahoo, or eBay, or Amazon.com, or any search engine you add. "Tabbed browsing" lets you open a new background window beside the page you're reading, so you can finish what you were first looking at. I wrote about this in March 2003; it's scary that most people still haven't experienced its usefulness.

Firefox's most useful and forward-looking feature is "Live Updates", known more geekily as RSS syndication. View the BBC news pages with Firefox, for example, and in the bottom-right corner you'll see an orange "echo" symbol. Drag that to your toolbar, and when you click on it later, you'll get a list of the latest headlines from that page. Hundreds of sites can be dipped into this way.

It all leaves IE in the dust. And, interestingly, IE's market share has fallen steadily since June, and now stands at 88.9 per cent; still a big majority, but the trend matters. Given how easy Firefox is to install, and that using it removes you from the line of fire aimed at IE users, it's hard to think why one shouldn't change. (Some sites "insist" on IE, but you can download an "extension" to Firefox so it pretends to be IE; most sites happily accept this.) It already wallops a product the world's biggest software company has been developing for a decade - and it can only get better.

Thunderbird (mozilla.org/ thunderbird), also deserves attention. It can import mail and settings from Outlook Express, Eudora or its predecessor Mozilla (and Netscape). It has the usual "three pane" layout (mailboxes, subject lines, message). But then the jet zooms off the runway. Built-in "autolearning" spam filtering? Spellchecking? Got those. And you can search your mail (which in OE requires the Lookout add-on) and then save the result as a new mailbox, which will be updated when a new message comes along that matches the criteria. Plus, there's another built-in RSS reader, a newsgroup reader, an address book system and a clean interface.

Firefox and Thunderbird are just the sort of Christmas present you need: forward-looking features, more secure, and elegant in design and use. If you're still using IE and Outlook Express, change now. And they're free (ignoring the download cost).

www.charlesarthur.com/blog

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?