Thursday, 19 June 2008

Firefox Goes For a Record


O.K., kids, ready to go for the record? The latest version of the free browser Firefox launched at 1 p.m. E.T. today, and organizers are hoping enough people will download it so that Guinness World Records will cite it for "most software downloaded in 24 hours." You can get Firefox 3 from the official "Download Day" site here. However, for the past few hours, Firefox's servers have been down, as a result of a crash caused by the enormous demand for the browser update. The Mozilla folks say service will be restored shortly.

Launch Day today coincides with the general availability of the latest version of the popular browser, which runs on virtually any computer. An open-source project organized by Mozilla (the descendants of the Netscape browser), Firefox is the world's second-most popular browser; Microsoft's Internet Explorer occupies the top slot. Of course, that's hardly a fair comparison, since virtually all Windows PCs ship with IE, giving it a 72% share of the browser market. Firefox, which is typically downloaded rather than factory installed, has a 17% market share, followed by Apple's Safari at 5%.

Guinness doesn't have a current record holder for most software downloaded in a day. Firefox will petition Guinness to accept its record as the one to beat.

Whether it makes Guinness or not, you ought to download this browser. I've been a Firefox user for years, and this version, which I've been beta-testing for weeks, has a number of new features that make it worth the minute or so it takes to download and install it. The most obvious improvement (and by the way, Firefox claims more than 15,000 improvements — bet you can't name 100 of them) is the "awesome bar," its update to the location bar. You can start typing a keyword in the location bar and Firefox will scan the history file of places you've visited for matching keywords. I typed "flight" in my location bar, for instance, and Firefox pulled up a variety of airline sites I've visited during the past month.

The new version is also faster (you'll notice this in places like Gmail) and more secure, with pop-ups warning users if they're visiting sites that have been flagged for phishing or malware. The best part of Firefox 3, though, is how easy it is to customize, with more than 5,000 free add-ons that change everything from how the browser looks to how it behaves. I've noticed only one problem: when I try and stream music from Rhapsody, a service I subscribe to, it crashes the browser. That said, I'm pretty certain the problem is on Rhapsody's side, since it also crashes Safari. But at least I can listen to music for an hour or so before Safari crashes; Firefox crashes within 10 min. Would someone please get on this ASAP? As of 11 a.m. E.T. Tuesday, 1,687,332 had pledged to download Firefox. "We think 5 million downloads is imminently doable," John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla Corp., told me today. That's 3.4 million more downloads than Firefox's previous record, set Oct. 24, 2006, when Firefox 2 was released. So download away.

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