Much Ado About Firefox 3.6, But IE 8 Still Stronger in Key Areas
By now you're probably already aware that Firefox 3.6 is now live. I say, so what? When it comes to the computers you use to run your business, the amount of time you should spend worrying about which browser to run should be exactly zero minutes. Like toasters and desktop PCs, browsers have become commodities, and in a very real sense, there’s not that all that much difference.
What’s more, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, universally hated by the chattering masses, has improved and--most importantly--is not nearly as insecure as you’ve been led to believe.
Last year, NSS Labs tested the five leading browsers--Apple Safari 4, Google Chrome 2, Microsoft IE 8, Mozilla Firefox 3 and Opera 10--and to the surprise and horror of Microsoft hater’s everywhere, IE easily outperformed its competition in one test, and tied with Firefox for first place in another.
NSS tested the applications for their ability to detect and block web sites pushing socially engineered malware and phishing. Phishing sites capture sensitive personal and financial data by masquerading as legitimate sites. Socially engineered malware tricks users into clicking on a link or attachment that delivers a malicious payload.
The results: IE 8 blew away the others in the malware tests, blocking 81 percent of live threats. Firefox 3.0.11 was closest at 27 percent, with Safari 4 at 21 percent, Chrome 2 at 7 percent and Opera 10 beta at 1 percent. NSS Labs says that they confirmed that this protection is identical in Firefox 3 and 3.5, as well as Opera 9 and 10.
The phishing results were closer: IE 8 and Firefox 3 "were statistically tied in providing the best coverage at an 83 percent and 80 percent block rate respectively." Opera scored 54 percent, Chrome got 26 percent, and Apple Safari 4 just 2 percent.
Yes, there are other security issues not tested by NSS. But for a small business, malware is far and away the biggest threat. And I present these results in some detail, because they are so at variance with the conventional wisdom.
Ultimately, the choice of a browser is altogether subjective. Use what you like.
As it happens, the look and feel of Firefox is quite attractive, and I find its navigation rather intuitive. So I use it. But let me tell you, it crashes much more than it should, has trouble recovering tabs after those crashes and it loads rather slowly. The Mozilla folks say the new Firefox 3.6 is faster and more stable. Early tests by others indicate that they may be right, but I’ll wait until I see for myself.
Then there’s Safari. I don’t use it on my PC, but I use it many times a day on my iPhone. And I don’t like it. The biggest annoyance is the lack of a “stop” button. Because the screen is so sensitive, and I have big fingers, I often unintentionally click a link when I’m scrolling down a page. Other browsers would let me stop easily; Safari on the iPhone doesn’t. Maybe you like it. That’s OK to; I won’t tell you that’s a mistake.
I’m not advocating that businesses junk Firefox (I won’t) or the others. Rather, I'm merely pointing out that we ought to make technology decisions on the basis of actual facts, not just emotion and hype. Not to get all high-brow here, but Socrates had a point when he said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.