Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Making The Move From Microsoft Internet Explorer To Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox was the solution to so many problems I encountered with Microsoft Internet Explorer. I had an effective browser that dealt with annoying pop-ups and spyware. The best of all was that it performed much better than its counterpart. On a security side you had a better solution than Internet Explorer. Firefox is the result of an open source project and as all of you know, the open source community provides solutions to the vulnerabilities of its software much faster than Microsoft does for Internet Explorer.

Firefox has dealt with various security issues long before Microsoft even discovered similar issues in their browser. There has also been a joke circulating among Firefox fans that there is only one thing that is more secure in Internet Explorer than in Firefox and that is a feature that has not been implemented yet in Internet Explorer. I’m not sure what the specific issue was that this joke referred to, but it is ironic that Firefox is still more secure while providing much more functionality than Internet Explorer and therefore has more possible areas for security holes.

After discovering that so many visitors to my site was Internet Explorer users, I immediately browsed my site with Internet Explorer to see if there were any critical issues I had to deal with. To my surprise I only found that certain images were not completely aligned in the same positions, as they appeared in Firefox, but not so much that they looked out of place, to be honest if you never saw the site with Firefox you would not have even known that the images were out of place. The reason for this misplacement was Internet Explorer’s lack of solid support for CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).

Another problem was my toolbar. All the buttons was glued together, while they are spaced apart from each other when you view the site with Mozilla Firefox. This was easily fixed, ironically with a specific CSS statement that Internet Explorer does not have support for. The last problem was the appearance of a button when you hover with your mouse over it. The last button of every toolbar was broken so that the hovering effect did not display correctly in Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer is so bug ridden that you simply can’t have a work-around for every issue. The point I’m trying to make is that the site looked not to bad after all, if you kept in mind that it was only designed and tested with Mozilla Firefox.

Another interesting thing I discovered from my visitor statistics was that 95% used a screen resolution of 1024x768. I’m still designing on a 14” screen with an 800x600 resolution but always make sure that my site displays correctly on a 1024x768 resolution. I have made the mistake in the past by designing sites for an 800x600 resolution only, because I simply did not think about a higher resolution at that time. This was a very stupid mistake to make, I was chasing visitors away, unknowingly, because I was too reluctant to get myself a bigger screen that could handle a higher screen resolution.

This is maybe the most ironic part of my discoveries. People don’t mind to spend money upgrading their screen in order to comply with the newest trend of screen resolutions, something that does nothing to enhance the security of your online activities, but when they get the opportunity to obtain a free browser, that provides better security than their current browser, they simply refuse to make the move. I have seen Internet Explorer fix common HTML errors, like using two double quotes next to each other while there should have been only one. Firefox did not display the image referenced after these two double quotes and pointed this error out when you viewed the page source.

Internet Explorer ignored the second double quote and displayed the image as if there was no error at all. It did the cover-up work for the coding error, while Mozilla Firefox exposed it. Internet Explorer is therefore not the type of browser a web designer would use to validate his or her HTML code. You would rather prefer an alternative like Firefox, which tells you when you are making coding errors. But this even holds a threat for the normal user. Would you continue to trust a browser that attempt to correct a designer’s mistakes, or would you rather trust a browser that does not allow the faulty code to execute at all? Hackers are always on the lookout for common mistakes to exploit. You have a bigger chance to exploit faulty code than code that never got executed in the first place. After all how confident are you that Internet Explorer will make the right choice when correcting HTML errors?

Mozilla Firefox has a much better track record, not only with security issues, but also various other features, many features that the current version of Internet Explorer does not provide for. Why should web developers waste hours of their precious time to make up for the shortcomings of a browser while they could have spent their lost time making their websites more solid, better and more entertaining to explore with a browser that really works? So next time when you get the opportunity to switch over to Mozilla Firefox, be clever, don’t hesitate, you will be making the right move if you decide to make the switch.

Coenraad de Beer

Webmaster of Cyber Top Cops - The Cyber Security Specialists

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