Firefox reaches Five, tops vulnerabilities list

This week marks five years since the public release of Mozilla Firefox 1.0. First available in beta form as "Phoenix" the browser was an open-source evolution of the rendering framework designed for Netscape Communicator and extended with the Mozilla Suite; an all-in-one web communications package that failed to gain the mindshare developers had hoped for.

The idea behind Firefox was to create a browsing experience that was faster, more user friendly, and more standards compliant in comparison to Internet Explorer, which had seen few improvements in quality or feature changes since it had become a de facto monopoly within the segment. With tabbed browsing, popup-blocking, and the ability to integrate add-ons created by third parties, Firefox brought together a number of features that most users had never seen and upon its launch saw an unpredicted amount of success, with 10 million downloads in its first month alone.

The success of Firefox since its launch has affected not only the way browsers are developed and released but also the way sites are coded on a basic level. Up until the surge in Firefox adoption, Internet Explorer was increasingly reliant on idiosyncratic rendering preferences, often ignoring standards and guidelines offered by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. While some developing applications and sites for the internet chose to stick with the rules, many found themselves making sites that could only be properly viewed by IE, since it dominated the browser market so thoroughly. Once Firefox reached a significant presence even among non-technical users, this shift began to turn the other way. Though it had idiosyncrasies of its own, Firefox was so much closer to approved standards that other browsers on the market benefited as well, as sites that can only be viewed by one browser are now few and far between.

Mozilla's VP of Engineering Mike Shaver estimates that there may be as many as 350 million Firefox users, and an October 2009 report from Net Applications puts the product's market share at a little more than 24 percent. While Internet Explorer still has a significant lead with 65 percent, the effects of the competition between the two browsers is notable, with IE having adopted several of the key features made popular by Firefox, including tabbed browsing and a pop-up blocker. The rise of other browsers such as Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome can also be traced to Firefox's inroads.

Some might eat their orange and blue birthday cake with caution, as this week Firefox has been named the browser with the largest share of vulnerabilities for the first half of 2009, according to tech security firm Cenzic. The company performed an analysis of several major error databases to come to its conclusion, which was that Firefox had 44 percent of all browser vulnerabilities, with Safari coming in second with 35 percent and IE next with 15. Lars Ewe, Cenzic CTO, admits to using the browser personally and professionally and says the study does not mean the browser is inherently unsafe. Many of the issues were related to third party add-ons, the report did not differentiate zero-day bugs, and as always exposure to risk is often dependent on individual browsing habits.

Special thanks to RenaissanceMan for his contribution

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