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Hot on the Web

Firefox, The Bat and other online tools

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on December 17, 2004
(Issue 2251, Our Shrinking Planet)

While the tech press has been following the ongoing development of the Mozilla Project's various Web browsers for the past several years, the mainstream media has only now, finallyi, discovered Firefox, Mozilla's open-source standalone browser.

What has caught the national spotlight is the fact that Firefox is now out in an official full public release, version 1.0.

The media is liking what it sees, too – giving Firefox high marks compared to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. And given that Firefox is available for Windows, MacOSX and Linux, it's ability to capture a significant (if nonpaying) segment of the market would seem fairly strong.

But if Firefox is now considered stable enough for an official release, it's just one product from the Mozilla Project. Mozilla is a nonprofit, open-source community of programmers and testers who have taken the Netscape 6 engine and carried it forward with the Mozilla all-in-one browser (Web, newsgroups, e-mail client), now in version 1.7.3. Mozilla is my browser of choice – rock-solid stable, HTML compliant, full plug-in support and, most importantly, incredibly secure.

Firefox takes the best of Mozilla and strips it down to a compact, fast browser without an e-mail client or news reader.

I've used both for months, and have yet to have a significant issue with either.

And MacOSX users may want to try out Camino, the Mac-only Web browser being developed under the Mozilla umbrella. With Apple's Safari now available as a free download, some of the steam has gone out of the Camino hype – but it remains a strong, stable product. In fact, I still prefer it to the lastest version of Safari.

Outlook alternative

One of the biggest impediments to anyone (such as Corel's WordPerfect suite) trying to make a dent in Microsoft's Office near-monopoly is the ubiquitousness of the Outlook e-mail/calendar/planner program.

As much as I despise Microsoft's business practices and deplore their security holes, I have to admit that the concept behind Outlook is ingenious, it's implementation impressive.

In the workplace, especially, the ability to schedule a meeting and invite as many people as you want, and have that meeting then appear on their calendar has become practically indispensable at many firms. Without that ability and intuitive ease of use, e-mail programs like Netscape, Mozilla, Eudora and Opera have had a hard time making inroads against Outlook.

But again, the Mozilla Project is coming to the rescue – at least potentially. The Sunbird calendar/scheduling program is in early development, but is being built to offer an open-source alternative to Outlook. Haven't tried it yet, but there are some early beta versions available for download for Windows, Mac and Linux.

More e-mail options

The Mozilla Project is also supporting a standalone e-mail client, Thunderbird. It's not yet in final release, but is getting close and should be stable enough for most savvy users. Unfortunately, right now, there only seems to be a Windows version available.

The e-mail client I use, The Bat, has a new version out, 3.01. I downloaded the trial version of The Bat 2.0 last year at the urging of a reader, and fell so in love with its stability, security and ease of use that I ended up buying it. I'm now using the trial version of 3.01, and will shortly be forking out some hard-earned coin to upgrade.

The biggest complaint I had against The Bat before was its clunky-looking interface. The menu buttons are much sleeker now, more intuitive. The Bat still won't display HTML graphics inline, but that seems to me a small price to pay for the security it offers vs. Outlook.

There are a few small bugs in the new version. For some reason, if I hit reply, and delete the quoted material from the previous e-mail, the first word I type in the reply is a hyperlink. And when you hit reply, the default setting is to autoquote the entire previous message. After a few back-and-forths, you're getting some pretty huge text files – and at about 250KB, The Bat starts getting a bit buggy.

Other than that, though, I've been delighted with it. The address book utility is the best I've ever found, the search options are superb, and the interface is elegant.

You just couldn't want any more.