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Microsoft Internet Explorer Versus Firefox and Safari

Microsoft's Internet Explorer is the free World Wide Web browser included in every version of Microsoft® Windows™. Being included in the majority of personal computers when they're sold, most people are introduced to the internet with Internet Explorer as their first web browser.

Internet Explorer (IE) has at least one major security design flaw. Beyond mere inclusion with Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer is integrated into the operating system. Microsoft claims without IE's core components Windows can not fully function. It's integrated into the file system browser and other applications. Therefore no capability is given to completely uninstall it, even for servers. The low level integration also results in web browser security issues creating operating system vulnerabilities, sometimes even if the browser is never launched directly by the user. Many security bugs in IE could be exploited to give an attacker complete control over Windows. Security patches for Internet Explorer also sometimes cause peripheral problems in the operating system.

A few relatively mainstream web browser alternatives are available for Windows users.'s Firefox

Mozilla's suite of open source web browser, e-mail client, and IRC client are consistant across Windows, Unix, Linux, and Mac OS X. They basically look and behave the same wherever they are run. This is accomplished by making a core library for web page rendering and another for drawing its own user interface.

One major goal of the Mozilla Organization is adherence to web standards. Therefore the core web page rendering library is often used by other projects. The Firefox web browser is the Mozilla Organization's own leaner browser, using the excellent rendering engine with a fast native user interface. Firefox became popular very quickly due to its speed, standards compliance, and lack of many significant security issues. The only negative impact of its standards compliance is the improper rendering of some web pages which were written specifically for Internet Explorer. By not following standards these web developers knowingly alienate some users. To give some proportion to Firefox's efficiency, consider its size: 4.6 MB. Meanwhile, Internet Explorer weighs in at 80 MB as part of Windows XP SP2.

"Internet Explorer users can be as much as 21 times more likely to end up with a spyware-infected PC than people who go online with Mozilla's Firefox browser." (Source article removed from Yahoo! News.) In addition to better security, Firefox offers features not found in Internet Explorer, such as tabbed browsing and built-in web searching. Firefox also provides better form completion and easier configuration. Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 promises to catch up with these features, but each new version of Firefox generally remains at the forefront of web browsing features. Firefox also adds many features created by the large development community in the form of plugins. Firefox makes plug-in creation far easier than with any other browser. There are plenty of plugins providing various features many people find useful.

According to Secunia Stay Secure, and published in Forbes, as of mid-2004 59% of Microsoft Internet Explorer's known security vulnerabilities have patches available while 36% remain completely unpatched. Firefox has 69% of its known vulnerabilities patched and only 15% remain unpatched. The rest of the vulnerabilities - to make the statistics sum to 100% - likely have partial fixes and workarounds.


For years Internet Explorer was also available for Mac OS X but support for the competing operating system has been dropped. Apple, Inc.'s Mac OS X operating system contains the Safari web browser. Known for its speed, tabbed browsing, and usability features it's a good competitor to Firefox. Yet it's only available on Macs. With the future of Internet Explorer dropped on the Mac, Safari has solidified its share of the OS X desktop. There's usually no need to use an alternate browser. A key feature of using Firefox instead of Safari is Firefox's useful plugins, such as developer toolbars and alternate searching methods.


The Opera commercial web browser is known best for its speed and features not found in IE. Its effecient implementation and commercial backing have made it available on mobile devices. As with Firefox, Opera gives Windows users the added security of not using IE.

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Copyright © 2004-2007 Matthew Schwartz