Monday, May 16, 2005

Don't Click on the Blue E! by Scott Granneman


I have a great deal for you: a top-of-the-line home safe-strongbox that will store all your precious stuff. The good news is, it comes free when you buy a set of new door locks—in fact, you can't buy these locks without it. The bad news is, it can be opened with a paperclip, it unlocks your back door, and it broadcasts your address and whether or not you are currently at home to every burglar in the world.

Would you take that deal? I wouldn't.

Why, then, do so many of us keep clicking on that convenient e, using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) to browse the Web? In this very entertaining and informative book, Scott Granneman tells us we don't need spyware-crackers, Service Pack 2 and an upgrade to Windows XP. To have a safe Internet experience, we need only one tip: Don't Click on the Blue E!

The cover's prominent and toothy fox is a strong visual clue to the author's personal browser preference. Granneman makes a very good case for Firefox to replace IE on your Windows, Linux or Mac OSX system. He also provides a fair review of several other browsers, all of them more secure, more featureful, and more easily installed or upgraded than IE. But his main focus is on the wonderful free browser from Mozilla that is rapidly devouring market share Microsoft thought was locked up.

Granneman begins with a swift overview of browser history. For readers who were not online during the mid-90s browser wars, much of this may be a revelation. Microsoft buys Mozaic, and uses its code as a base for IE. Netscape develops Mozilla (Mozaic-Killer, Godzilla to Redmond's browser, get it?), and sets the browser free in the Web, spinning it off as Open Source. The Mozilla organization, rejecting the original bulky code of Netscape Navigator's 4.0 suite, chooses instead to trim Mozilla to browser-only functionality, with useful web-specific features. AOL buys Netscape, and releases a buggy Navigator 5.0 (based on an unreleased beta version of Mozilla's open source product). Meanwhile, IE's development has slowed to a crawl.

Then comes November 2004, when Mozilla officially releases Firefox v.1.0. In the first month of availability online, ten million copies are downloaded. That's a lot, but there's a more revealing number. In that same month, IE's share of the browser market dropped 5 percent as users changed to the Firefox browser. Clearly, the prospect of having a free, safe, secure, easy to install and configure, feature-laden browser was a strong draw.

So Granneman has reason for his preference. He proceeds to detail all the great basic, out-of-the-box features of Firefox. Some of these, like tabbed browsing and live bookmarks, are not unique to Firefox, and Granneman is generous in his praise of the other non-IE browsers that provide them. Most of these basic features are a click or two away for even the novice user. The details of what each function does, and what the options mean was invaluable. I strongly recommend this book as a user manual for the first-time Firefox user.

Other Firefox powers are available only after you download an extension, theme, or add-in. Such super-chargers could have been included in the Firefox release, but that would saddle every user with functions that only a few want to use. Are you one of those few who want to put a damper on MacroMedia Flash? A few minutes online is all it takes to customize the system.

For the power user, Granneman provides a chapter on Advanced Firefox configuration. This information is not as detailed and programmer-specific as Firefox Hacks by Nigel McFarlane, but Don't Click includes an appendix to detail your first steps in editing Firefox chrome files. With both books on your support shelf, you've got what you need to tweak the browser to your own satisfaction.

Every section ends with pages of online references. It would be perfect to have a source on the web so you can just click those URLs—and since this book is Safari-enabled, you can do just that. O'Reilly even offers a 14-day free trial of the Safari service.

If you've just had it with the endless problems of IE, there's no reason to continue. And if you haven't yet decided, I strongly recommend Scott Granneman's book. With any of the alternate browsers he describes, you'll have a much easier time on the Web.

And you won't have to keep re-locking your back door.

Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.


Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 10:26 PM  

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