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Firefox ignites web browser market

The release of Firefox 1.0 has sparked new activity in the web browser market.

The Mozilla Foundation's launch of its open-source web browser last week prompted Microsoft to break its silence about Internet Explorer. AOL is also breathing life into the Netscape brand with the unveiling of a preview of a new Firefox-based browser scheduled on 30 November.

Microsoft has no plans to release a new version of Internet Explorer until the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, due out in 2006. But Gary Schare, director of Windows product management at Microsoft, said features could be added to Internet Explorer through the browser's add-on technology.

"It is an option for the Internet Explorer team to add functionality in between releases," he said. "We do not have specific plans at this point to use it, but it is an option." Microsoft's MSN group already uses the add-on mechanism for its MSN Toolbar.

Microsoft has not released a completely new version of Internet Explorer for years. Windows XP users recently got a browser upgrade with Service Pack 2, which included features such as pop-up blocking and security enhancements. Schare said that most of the Internet Explorer development effort was focused on Longhorn.

According to Schare, Microsoft is looking at better ways to manage favourites and tabbed browsing, a feature to improve the browsing experience by consolidating multiple web pages into a single window organised by tabs.

Firefox and other browsers already offer tabbed browsing. Meanwhile AOL's Netscape browser unit is preparing to preview its new browser. "It is based on Firefox, but will be Firefox Plus, it has got improvements beyond Firefox," said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein.

The new browser and a new e-mail client will eventually replace the current Netscape offering. Weinstein declined to give product details. AOL released Netscape 7.2 in August, but version 7.2 is based on Mozilla 1.7, a suite of products that includes a browser, e-mail client, Internet Relay Chat client and web page editor.

By Friday morning, the Mozilla Foundation had counted 4.7 million Firefox downloads.

The rise of Firefox, first introduced in February this year when Mozilla renamed its Firebird project, has been remarkable. The browser held 3% market share at the end of October, according to WebSideStory. The Mozilla Suite, Netscape and Firefox together held 6% of the market at the end of October, up from 3.5% in June.Though losing share, Internet Explorer still dominated with 92.9% of the market, according to WebSideStory.

Firefox is the Mozilla Foundation's standalone browser. The Mozilla open-source project was started in early 1998 by Netscape, which was acquired later that year by AOL. Last year, the people behind Mozilla created a foundation, largely funded by a $2m (£1m) pledge from AOL, to build, support and promote Mozilla products.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service


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