Making the Switch from IE to Firefox
July 6, 2004
I’ve suggested several times recently that it’s probably a good idea to dump IE except for the “have-to” stuff (mostly Windows Update), and go to Mozilla Firefox. I’m not the only one, of course—even Slate, Microsoft’s house organ, suggested the same thing last week.
It’s doubtless a good thing to do, but I’ve also had a rash of phone calls lately from Windows users asking me a bunch of the same questions, so here is a step-by-step overview of what to do…
First, read through this whole article, particularly the caveats at the end. Then, if you’re going to be using this as a guide, you probably ought to print it, because we’re going to be closing your web browser. Also go to http://www.microsoft.com/security/incident/settings.mspx and print that too, because we’ll be using it also.
Next, click here and download Firefox. If you’re not comfortable with downloading, what you want to do is “Save” the file (not “Open” it from the remote location) Save will ask you where to put the file. Put it on your Desktop (you can always delete the installer when you’re done.)
Once it’s saved, close Internet Explorer, and find the FireFox installer on your desktop. It will probably be labeled something like “FirefoxInstaller0.9.1.exe” (this number will vary as the version changes).
Double click it to start it installing. You may want to read the license agreement carefully (but you’ll have to accept it to install), and select the “Standard” installation. When you come to the last screen of the install, leave the “Run Firefox” option checked, and click “Finish”.
When FireFox starts up for the first time, it will offer to import your settings from Internet Explorer. Let it import all of them. It will also ask whether it should become your default browser. I suggest you say “yes” (the next time you start Internet Explorer, it will ask the same question. Just Say No.)
Once all of that is done, it should take you to your normal home page. It’s normal for FireFox to put up a little warning dialog the first time it blocks a pop-up, and the first time you do things like enter or leave a secure page, or send data in a form (IE did the same thing the first time you used it, ‘cept the popup part).
Go to the Tools menu, and select Extensions. Click on “Get More Extensions”. This will open the Mozilla Extensions page. Under most popular (at the moment; if it changes, you’ll probably have to hunt for them in the categories on the left), click on “GoogleBar”, and then on “Install Now”.
A dialog will appear and after a brief delay (or a not-so-brief one, if you’re on a slow connection), the “Install Now” button will be enabled. Press it.
Repeat the above two paragraphs with the “View in IE” extension.
Re-launch Firefox—this will be the real cute little shortcut on your desktop with the orange fox hugging the planet.
You’re now installed. If you’re not familiar with the Google Toolbar, find the big lower-case G at the top of the screen, just under your “Back” and “Next” buttons. Type something into the text box next to it, and hit Enter. Like magic, Google will appear and show you the search results for what you typed.
Pick the link (the blue underline) for “Images” at the top of Google’s page, and Right Click it (this means click on it with your Right mouse button). Select “Open Link in New Tab”, and look at the result—you now have Tabs across the top of your screen. Each of these is a separate browser—just like multiple windows in IE, except it takes up a whole lot less space. You can click on the tabs to go back and forth. Right click on a tab, and you’ll see options for closing tabs, opening new tabs, etc. If you’re like most people, Tabbed Browsing will rapidly become a favorite thing.
Go back to the tab with the Google search results on it, and right click somewhere on the page (not on a link, and not on a graphic). You’ll see an option reading “View in IE”. Click it.
IE will start up (and complain about not being the default browser; tell it to suffer), and display the same page you have open in Firefox.
This is handy if you find a page that just doesn’t work right in Firefox (and there are some—be sure to leave a note for the webmaster when you find them).
Now it’s time for a few warnings, particularly before you take the next step.
As mentioned, there ARE pages that don’t work right in Firefox. There are some that don’t work at all. There are less and less, and the more people who run it and who complain, the less there will be.
Worse, if you follow the next step here, there will also be a lot of pages that won’t work properly in IE until you do some fiddling around. You’ll be safer, but some things WILL break.
Yes it sucks. You’ve got to balance your own risks regarding this inconvenience with how much of a pain in the butt it will be if your machine gets seriously loaded up with viruses or spyware, or worse, if people install keyloggers and start reading your passwords and credit card numbers.
How recent is your most recent backup again? Uh huh…
Anyway, you’ve been warned… If you follow any of these instructions and things break, you own both pieces. Yes, I do housecalls (and telephone troubleshooting), but yes, I do charge for them…
Ahem. That said, it’s time to secure Internet Explorer. You will have to use it, if for no other reason than to run Windows Update (which you do religiously, correct?)
Instead of going into all of the details here, go to http://www.microsoft.com/security/incident/settings.mspx and read Microsoft’s instructions on increasing your safety in IE.
Follow Steps 1 and 2. Step 3 is up to you (an article I’ll write another time). Instead of Step 4, go to http://toolbar.google.com/ and install the Google Toolbar, which also blocks popups and is more useful than Microsoft’s.
When (not if) you come to a web site that won’t run right with Firefox, and still doesn’t work right when you click “view in IE” and look at it in your newly-secured Internet Explorer, you’ll need to follow Step 2 from the Microsoft article to enter that site as a trusted site (assuming you trust it), after which it SHOULD mostly work.
Anyway, that’s the plan. Follow it, and you should be more secure. You will put up with a little more annoyance, and you still might get had, but at least you’ll have done a lot to decrease your odds of being a victim. Plus, Firefox is just plain enjoyable to use, particularly the Tabbed Browsing feature.
Speaking of which, since you’ve come this far, you deserve a treat. In Firefox, click on Tools, Themes, and click on “Get More Themes”. These install just like you installed the Extensions, above, and are a nice replacement for the somewhat bland graphics that Firefox ships with. I’m rather partial to Noia, myself, but install a few and see which ones you like best…