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TECH TIPS
with Scott Merrill

Learn tips and hints to use a variety of electronic and technical equipment to enhance work with volunteers.


~ January 2005~ Topics


Mozilla Firefox: What it is, and why you need it

A Brief History

When the World Wide Web really started to gain popularity, there were basically two web browsers to choose from: Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. These two products jockeyed for dominance. Originally, Netscape Navigator was the superior product. But Microsoft made some sweeping changes to its browser, making it the better browser, and decided to give it away for free to users of the Windows operating system. To secure the top spot for its product, Microsoft extended Internet Explorer to support several useful, but non-standard, functions for web pages -- functions that Netscape Navigator did not support. Over time, Netscape lost marketshare and Microsoft continued to sit at the top of the web browser market. In an effort to remain competitive, Netscape, too, released their browser for free to users; but they went one crucial step further and released the source code, or blueprints, to Navigator for free, too. Thus was born the Mozilla project.

The Mozilla project is a coordinated effort by volunteers all over the world to continue work on the Navigator browser. People contributed time and talent for a great many reasons: personal fulfilment, anti-Microsoft sentiment, community interaction, or just because it was a chance to work on something genuinely interested for them. Under the Mozilla moniker, the Navigator browser grew and matured. Without a profit motive the Mozilla developers were free to focus on producing a high-quality, innovative product according to the schedule that best fit their needs, not the needs of shareholders.

What Is Firefox?

Mozilla Firefox is the latest -- and greatest! -- web browser evolved from the original Navigator. During its development, it has undergone some radical changes, and has emerged as a mature, highly functional product suitable for all internet users.

Firefox 1.0 was released in November, 2004, and was downloaded over 11 million times within 30 days. Supporters from all over the world, eager to spread the news of Firefox, donated money to run a two-page ad in the New York Times.

What's so great about Mozilla Firefox, and why should you care? Here are a few brief reasons.

Firefox Features

Searching Searching for a specific word or phrase inside a web page in Firefox is as easy as pressing the forward slash (/) key. An unobtrusive panel is displayed at the bottom of the window with controls to search forward and backward through the document. Searching the entire internet is just as easy: simply enter the search term(s) into the text box at the top right of the Firefox window, and press enter! The default search will query Google, but also available are Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, dictionary.com, even Amazon and eBay! Plus, users can add their own favorite search engines to the list.
Tabbed Browsing Firefox supports tabbed browsing, where multiple web pages can be displayed inside a single window. Each page is available by clicking a tab at the top of the window, similar to tabs on file folders inside a filing cabinet. Tabs make it vastly easier to pursue multiple web pages. For example, to open a list of search results, each page in its own tab, simply click the middle button of a 3-button mouse on each link.
Popup Blocker Firefox blocks unrequested pop-up windows. When Firefox was first introduced, this was one of its strongest selling points. Now it's less compelling, since the version of Internet Explorer included with Windows XP Service Pack 2 includes pop-up blocking as well. Google's Toolbar for Internet Explorer blocks pop-ups, also. Nonetheless, this is a terrific Firefox feature, and it's on by default.
System Stability One of the ways that Microsoft won the original Browser Wars was to tightly integrate Internet Explorer with the internals of Windows itself. If Internet Explorer crashes, it can lead to severe system instability, as the portions of Windows that rely on Internet Explorer suffer the effects of the crash as well. This leads to system lockups, blue screen errors, and more. Mozilla Firefox is a stand-alone application, and does not provide deeply integrated functionality for the underlying operating system. If Firefox crashes, Windows itself ought not be impaired. Of course, if Windows crashes, it can still affect Firefox; but the reverse is much less likely to be true.
No Spyware Many flaws in Internet Explorer have been exploited to install adware, malware, and spyware. Firefox is more resilient against malicious activity. To my knowledge, adware, malware, and spyware have not yet found any ways to hijack Firefox. That's not to say that it's impossible -- just far less likely.
Extensions Firefox is great all by itself, but it's made even more useful with a number of extensions. Extensions do all sorts of things, like provide mouse gestures for navigation controls, or display international weather forecasts or the United States Homeland Security Threat Level. My favorite extension provides a spellcheck function for text fields, which is great for working with blogs, wikis, and online forums.
Open Development Firefox is an open source project, which means anyone can download the source code, as well as view the list of unresolved problems. Users can report new bugs to the Firefox development team and the developers (and other users!) can quickly see which problems are the most common. Not only can users report bugs, but they can also request and help build new features.
Firefox, and most open source software, is almost exclusively developed by volunteers. Developers coordinate by email, online chat, and scheduled events. Coordinated volunteer efforts have made Firefox available in 32 languages! New volunteers are encouraged to contribute in whatever way they can: advocacy, testing, documentation and translation, or programming.

Conclusion

Many internet observers recognize that the Browser Wars are starting again. In the few months that Firefox has been available, Microsoft Internet Explorer's dominance has already slipped several percentage points. Users everywhere are recognizing the benefits of using Firefox: useful innovative features with enhanced system stability and security.

Mozilla Firefox is the web browser to use for GNU/Linux, Macintosh, and Windows. Download it today!

Still not convinced? Read more about Firefox:
http://browsehappy.com/
http://spreadfirefox.com/
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/19/business/yourmoney/19digi.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozilla_Firefox


Plan an EDU-VACATION - April 26-29, 2005

Training for managers of volunteers, leading to a certificate, is being held April 26-29, 2005. Sponsored by Washington State University, the Volunteer Management Certificate Program will be held in Port Hadlock, Washington, in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains. Topics include:

Recruitment Evaluation
Training Management and Supervision
Recognition Risk Management
Diversifying the Volunteer Pool The Internet as the Manager's Next Best Friend

Interactive Case Models based on student process is the focus of Learning Activities.
For more information, visit the website at: http://www.emmps.wsu.edu/volunteer.

Scott Merrill is an information technology professional with demonstrated success in a variety of diverse environments, including healthcare, for-profit, and non-profit. He has participated in large-scale deployments for national and international corporations, and has successfully managed the introduction of a complete technology solution for a mid-sized non-profit mental health facility.

In addition to technology implementation, he facilitates technology education and advocacy in a variety of ways. Scott currently sits on the technology advisory committee for a community non-profit organization. He is a contributor to the technology section of CharityChannel.com, and has published several articles at Newsforge.com.

Scott is a strong advocate for GNU/Linux and Free Software, and is the Presentation Coordinator for the Central Ohio Linux User Group. He works hard to recommend and support creative, open solutions for budget-conscious, socially-minded organizations.

Scott lives in lovely Columbus, Ohio with his wife and twin daughters. He occasionally blogs his thoughts at http://skippy.net. You may reach him by email at skippy@skippy.net.


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