Crazy Like a Firefox

Today, the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser officially launched -- welcome, version 1.0. In a way, it's much ado about nothing, seeing how it wasn't that long ago that we reported on how Mozilla had set its sights on chipping away at Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Internet Explorer browser's ubiquity. However, the Firefox launch does merit mention, especially considering a top story from CNET today pointed to the fact that the MyDoom virus is back in action.

When I opined on Mozilla's aggressive claims several weeks ago, I noted some interesting things about this "little engine that could." Most interesting, perhaps, is its grassroots, guerrilla-type marketing and subsequent appeal to the common tech user. Given Microsoft's long history of ubiquity and loyalty through default, that's one piece of powerful momentum for Mozilla, as well as other browsers, such as Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Netscape browser, Opera, and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Safari.

And, according to Spread Firefox, within a scant two weeks, Firefox downloads have swelled 60% to 8 million. It's a reminder of the strength of the Internet in viral surges of popularity for certain services, a phenomenon that has been proven by the early success of services such as Friendster (since fizzled) and the continued success of Craigslist.

Meanwhile, news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal noted that the fully launched Firefox gives prime real estate to Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Web search. Although many of us, including Foolish contributor Rich Duprey, have theorized that Google might have a browser of its own in its labs -- or maybe even team up with Mozilla on the effort -- the companies still deny existence of such a relationship.

Microsoft's security issues have been well-known and well-reported during the course of the last year, including this recent missive. Meanwhile, today it turned out that a new MyDoom variant is targeting IE users once again, since it exploits an unpatched flaw in the IE browser. This new virulent version of MyDoom victimizes users who click on certain links in emails (not attachments, as many Web users are more accustomed to worrying about), luring them to malicious Web sites that then infect and hijack their PCs to carry out nefarious tasks. (Among the other oddities, according to CNET -- the virus sets up a Web server to infect other systems.)

As I've said before, there's still little reason for Microsoft investors to get too bent out of shape about Mozilla. At this point, about 90% of Web users apparently still use Internet Explorer. However, as I've also said before, it's the slow slippage in Microsoft users' sense of trust and safety that has made it possible for Firefox to enjoy this early success. This slippage bears watching -- and, from Mr. Softy's perspective, fixing. (In the meantime, IE users should activate their firewalls as Microsoft suggests and not click on any email links that look sketchy.)

Talk about computing issues -- and common frustrations and fixes -- on our Help with this STUPID Computer! discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.


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