Review: Firefox 3 Versus Internet Explorer

The answer the Test Center found -- not quite yet.

Firefox has made some really great strides over previous versions with this release. There are an abundance of new features which can really give IE 8 (which is still in beta) a run for the money.

Test Center reviewers installed IE 8 beta and Firefox 3.0 on the same box -- a Vista SP1 machine with a 1.80 GHz processor and running 2 GB RAM. Firefox installed without incident.

Favicon-based action is one of the features in Firefox 3.0 that the Test Center looked at first. As with IE, in the URL bar an icon representing the particular Website resides next to the site's URL. Click that icon in IE 8, what happens? Nothing. Click it in Firefox 3.0 and a user gets detailed information about the security of the Website. The favicon pops open to a box that reports if the user's connection is encrypted or not, if the user visited that site previously and will list any cookies or saved passwords the site may be storing on the computer. Although it is possible to gather this type of information from IE, the ease of just one-click giving up detailed information about a site, is definitely a win for Firefox.

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Bookmarking has become more sophisticated as well in Firefox 3.0. Pages can be bookmarked with a single click from the location bar, which really works about the same in IE 8. More impressive, is the ability to associate "tags" with bookmarks. With tags, bookmarks can be categorized by keywords not just organized by folders.

"Smart" bookmarking gives a quick list of all items recently bookmarked or tagged.

Security appears to be beefed up in this release of Firefox. Reviewers purposefully infected the test PC with some particularly annoying adware programs. IE infection was immediate, but Mozilla was able to stave off the malware. The pornographic pop-ups and site redirections that occurred after installing the malware became a nuisance in IE 8 but did not happen with using Mozilla.

In addition to this apparent heartier resistance to malware, Firefox 3.0 integrates with anti-virus applications and will notify AV software when downloading .exe files. There is also native malware protection; the application will give warning when accessing sites that contain malware.

The customization possibilities with Firefox 3.0 are endless. There are add-ons for everything from external download managers to language translators. This version also supports associating Podcasts and Videocasts with media playback tools.

Firefox 3.0 can now detect a site using high-level EV SSL certificate security. The URL bar will turn green in the location bar. However, IE has had this feature since a version update in early 2007.

Other features like Auto Complete are more robust in Firefox 3.0 and others like resume-able download are pretty much non-existent in IE.

Feature-wise, Firefox has leaped ahead of IE. However there is still an issue where it is lacking and that's in performance.

Although one particular benchmark, Firefox 3.0 scores higher under Sunspider's JavaScript benchmarking tool than IE (IE 8 11648.6 ms versus Mozilla at 4281.4 ms) that only showed that Firefox was better at handling Java scripting.

Reviewers opened a few really graphics-intensive sites in both browsers. And what is more graphics-intensive then sites aimed at children? Time to load was tested in both browsers for Disney's Web site, and the Nickelodeon channel's site. Opening, IE took 10 seconds to fully load, Mozilla took 20. Loading the home page for; IE was 21 seconds to load and Mozilla was 46 seconds.

The browsers were also tested against, a site that uses Adobe's Flashplayer. IE 8 had no problems loading and navigating through the site. Mozilla took almost a minute to load and then continuously froze while navigating. The application eventually crashed.

In the business environment, performance of a browser usually has an edge over features and customizations, especially since users are usually limited by usage policy as to what they can or can't do in a browser anyway. If performance issues consist with Firefox, it will probably not be feasible for most businesses to migrate from IE which come bundled with the OS anyway.

The bottom line: With a host of improvements and features (some not even available in IE) plus its enhanced malware security, Firefox will continue to singe the stranglehold IE has in the browser space. Whether it can reduce IE to ashes, remains to be seen.