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IE7 Off and Running, but Firefox 2.0 Close Behind

While the big news is that Microsoft finally began shipping Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP on Wednesday, IE's main browser competitor hit a major milestone of its own just two days before.

On Monday, Mozilla released Release Candidate 3 (RC3) of Firefox 2.0. While Mozilla officials would not commit to a final ship date, they did say the code will most likely go gold in late October or early November.

And Firefox beta users are no less enthusiastic than IE7 aficionados, according to Mozilla officials.

"[We are getting] about 350,000 to 400,000 downloads per day," said Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering at Mozilla Corp., in an interview. The open source company estimates that Firefox currently has about 70 million users.

That number is likely to jump when Firefox 2.0 is released – just as it did last year when Mozilla released Firefox 1.5.

“We're hoping to see a similar jump [in usage] with 2.0,” said Mike Beltzner, “phenomenologist” for Mozilla Corp., in an interview.

While IE7 now gives Microsoft some heavy ammunition to fire back at critics and Firefox boosters, it has lost precious market share since Firefox first came out. Recent year-over-year estimates show that, while IE's popularity slide has slowed, Firefox continues to gain share – and whether IE7 will slow that further remains to be seen, at least on the Windows XP platform.

On Windows Vista-based machines set to begin shipping in January, IE7 will come standard and, given the marketplace's lust for a replacement for the aging, five-year-old XP, sales of new PCs beginning next year are likely to positively impact IE7's market share.

But, as critics point out, IE7 is mostly playing catch up to features already available in Firefox, including tabbed browsing and built-in support for RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.

Mozilla officials argue that Firefox 2.0 adds features that IE7 users will still have to wait for even after they install the new Microsoft release.

For instance, 2.0 adds a "session restore" feature that will automatically restore any open windows and even text the user was typing online should the user accidentally close a browser session -- or have a browser session crash.

"If you have to restart, the browser will return you to where you were before," Beltzner said. "With 2.0, you have the ability to reopen recently-closed tabs [and] it even restores Web forms or writing in an e-mail you were working on."

Additionally, links that open new browser windows now open in tabs by default, and each tab now includes an individual close button. When too many tabs are opened to display across the top of a single window, scroll arrows enable the user to navigate the list of open tabs, Mozilla documents state.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.