Thursday, May 21, 2009

Migrate to Free Open Source Software (FOSS): Part 3 - The Web Browser

Here it is, part 3 of my Migrate to Open Source series. In this series, I'll be listing what I would consider everyday-use, closed-source software for the home user, and what the open-source packages are that fulfill the same purpose. I will only list software here that I have first-hand experience with, because I don't plan on this being some pointless software review post. I hope that this information is actually useful to those of you who have heard of, or would like to consider open-source software.

It seems like, more and more, that every day is one day closer to leaving installed applications behind in favor of web-hosted applications that can be accessed from any computer with a web browser and an internet connection.

The term for which is, "cloud computing". At the same time that our software moves from the desktop to the cloud, our web browsers are moving up the priority ladder of application importance. As long as we have a fully functional and robust web browser at our disposal, we can generally satisfy most of our day to day computing needs. From email to word processing via Google Docs to social networking to investment trading to school paper research, there is a plethora of things that we can do from our computers with nothing installed but our browser.

To the same extent and for the same reason(s) as with Windows as an operating system, most people are familiar with Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser. It's a staple on almost any newly-purchased PC because it's bundled with the Windows operating system (a choice that has gotten Microsoft in hot water with the software-monopoly police in the past). While Microsoft does continue to improve (read "catch up with the industry") their browser by adding in features that have been around in other browsers for many years, it still holds the number 1 spot on the list of browsers with the most and worst security vulnerabilities. Interestingly enough, that's a title that it shares with it's parent operating system as well. Still, it unbelievably holds the largest market share of users world-wide like it's parent operating system does.

But it doesn't have to. Let me introduce to you, the better alternatives.

Firefox - The Free and Open Source web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation that can be downloaded for Linux, Mac, and even Windows operating systems. Firefox does have a number of security vulnerabilities that are published for it, however, Mozilla does an infinitely better job of releasing patches and fixes in a more timely fashion when those vulnerabilities are found, than does Microsoft for their Internet Explorer product. As an added bonus, all of those nasty ActiveX controls that Internet Explorer will download and run from a harmful website, don't work in Firefox, which adds an inherent extra security. If that's still not enough, Firefox was one of the first browsers with an integrated pop-up blocker, and there is a must-have add-on called AdBlock Plus that will even disable all those rotating banner ads that so many harmful pages display.

Firefox was also one of the first browsers to include tabbed browsing, which was taken from the same code that gave Netscape it's tabbed browsing (code that was developed by Mozilla for it's Gecko engine). Leave it to Microsoft to market a feature that has been around for nearly a decade as something new and fresh when they finally decide to include it in to their own products.

Along with AdBlock Plus, there is a multitude of other available add-ons to extend the functionality of Firefox and it's sister products so that you can run them as lite or as heavily feature-packed as you decide. There's no need to deal with all of the bloatedness packed away deep inside the walls of closed-source software if all you really need is to browse some website.

Although Firefox is by far my favorite, there are some other, very reliable options including Safari, Opera, and the new rising star, Google Chrome. I've used each of them at one point or another in Linux, Mac, and Windows and yet Firefox still leads the pack. Chrome has some great features and is very fast, but it has some ground to make up before it can really compete head-to-head with Firefox.

I may spin off a post or two about my favorite add-ons for Firefox and other Mozilla projects that I regularly use, so stay tuned, and make sure you keep an eye out for Part 4 of this series, when I head on over to #3 on the list of can't-live-without-it software, the email client.

Other Posts in this Series:
Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 1
Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 2 - The Operating System
Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 4 - The Email Client
Migrating to Free Open Source Software: Part 5 - Cross-Platform Applications