For the past few months I’ve been using Firefox 1.5 and a succession of Internet Explorer 7 betas side by side, in roughly equal percentages. Most of the time, I barely noticed the difference. That’s an enormous improvement over IE6, where Firefox is clearly the btter browser by just about any objective measure.
Last week Microsoft gave me an advance release of IE7 Beta 2 for Windows XP. It’s clearly Microsoft’s attempt to catch up after 18 months of getting seriously whupped by Firefox. Techweb asked for a follow-up to my IE7 preview piece from last February, so I took the opportunity to compare IE7 and Firefox as directly as possible.
If you’re too busy, here’s the conclusion:
On a straight, feature-for-feature comparison, IE7 stacks up well against Firefox. If its improved security model lives up to its design specs, malware distributors will find it much more difficult to make a dishonest living, and the tabbed browsing features in the new release should make it much easier to deal with multiple pages.
The biggest hurdle that Internet Explorer has to overcome, however, is one that doesn’t fit on any features chart. Its tattered reputation — especially when it comes to security — has created an indelible negative impression among the technically savvy users who’ve enthusiastically adopted Firefox so far. Even if the final release of IE7 improves mightily over the current beta, building that new and improved reputation will be an uphill climb.
The security features in IE7 look good on paper, but this week’s release marks the first time IE7 has been thrown into the crucible that is the Internet. The criminal gangs that control the malware racket are going to be gunning for IE7 and mercilessly probing for weaknesses. I’ll need to see a year’s worth of security bulletins before I’m ready to accept the idea that this time it really is different and IE7 is genuinely safe enough to recommend without reservation to friends and family members.
“Good enough” isn’t good enough for Microsoft in the case of IE7. On issues of security in particular, they’re going to have to earn back trust from a generation that’s been burned pretty badly by security flaws in Windows and IE. That will take time, and there’s no guarantee of success.
Meanwhile, Firefox has one pretty huge ally. Visit Google’s home page using Internet Explorer today and you’ll see the first ad to ever appear on that page – urging you to switch to Firefox.
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