Who let the fox out? Woof! Woof!

The big news on the web browser front at the moment is the launch by the Mozilla Foundation of a new version of their excellent Firefox browser for Windows, Mac and Unix computers.

Browsers are an important tool that many of us take for granted but which we use every day for browsing websites, using online office programs and, in many cases, for our e-mail needs as well.

For many years I used Microsoft’s Internet Explorer but a couple of years ago I joined the growing flood of users who had made the change to using Mozilla’s Firefox as their primary browser.

Firefox 3 was finally launched on June 17, after a delay of a few hours, and achieved a world record as users downloaded more than eight million copies of it in the following 24 hours. This record was being certified by the Guinness World Records organisation as I wrote this column.

There is a fancy map on the Firefox site showing the location, by country, of people who downloaded the new browser. It seems that 39287 South African did so, just under the New Zealand 42619, and way more than the 495 downloaded by Zimbabweans.

Anyway, on to the program itself, which looks fairly similar to Version 2 except that it’s a good bit snazzier. At a mere 7Mb in size, it doesn’t take too long to download from firefox.com, and it installs like lightning, without the need to reboot your computer.

It will inherit all the bookmarks and browsing history any previous versions of Firefox you had installed and it will also import them from Internet Explorer. The most noticeable addition to the browser is the Smart Location Bar which tries to predict what site you want to go to.

Modestly known as the “Awesome Bar”, the feature is activated as soon as you start typing in a web address. It searches through your bookmarks and browsing history to produce a list of possible sites containing the letters you’ve typed.

You can select the site you want from the list, as it appears, or you can carry on typing if it doesn’t. I didn’t like the feature at first because it didn’t show the sites I wanted, but the cool thing is that it learns from you. It soon worked out that, when I type a G, I usually want to go to Google, and it is much more useful after having used it for a couple of days. There is an in direct way of turning off the feature if you can’t bear it; the program’s Help feature will tell you how.

I think that Firefox 3 is the fastest browser I’ve ever used and it seems to have lost an annoying habit I encountered with Version 2, where I sometimes had to click twice on a picture or text link. Other noteworthy new features include the ability to bookmark a page with one click, to delete all your private information from the browser’s memory with a keystroke, and parental controls.

One neat feature that I also appreciate is a quick way of subscribing to sites which have feeds, such as blogs, by creating a Live Bookmark. New articles and posts on that site are then listed for you whenever you select the bookmark for that site.

Should you upgrade from the previous versions of Firefox or Internet Explorer? The answer is yes and yes.

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