Saturday, November 13, 2004

Firefox vs. Opera

Get Firefox!

Get Opera!

So, here we are in late 2004, and it looks like Microsoft’s cherished preserve, the web browser, is finally becoming less of a Microsoft thing.

Firefox, which is produced as a small and fast–to–run, fast–to–view browser, is developed by many geeks throughout the world, and is attached to The Mozilla Foundation.

Opera, which has recently posted its 7.60 (preview release 3) version, is produced as a small and fast–to–run, fast–to–view browser, and is developed by only a few geeks in Opera Software.

First question: why the fuss about Opera over Firefox? Firefox over Opera? What is the difference?

In a nutshell, web pages are written in either html or xhtml language, and this language has a correct ‘grammar’ for usage. If you use bad grammar, your pages won’t be perfect and some of their elements may fail on browsers which are built to decode the language completely gramatically correctly. Conversely, if you use perfect grammar, your pages will display perfectly on web browsers which are built to decode the language correctly.

Except with Internet Explorer. Because Microsoft doesn’t use use perfect html on its websites and products, Internet Explorer is designed to display Microsoft’s bug–ridden pages as if they were written perfectly. It’s not using correct grammar to translate and display html for you. It’s like deliberately adjusting the prescription on your spectacles to be wrong, in the hope of making some weird things look right. But with the same specs you won’t see normal things correctly anymore. And that’s IE in a nutshell.

The next question: why does it matter?

It matters because every business in the world is mad about the internet, and therefore every product you buy, from your mobile phone to your computer to your bank account, uses the net. And so the net has to encourage its users (and creators) to all use the same correct grammar, otherwise things won’t be compatible with each other — in so many ways.

So, since Opera and Firefox are both correct, why do we need both? Surely one would do? And since Opera arrived before Firefox, why is Firefox all over the news and Opera isn’t?

Aha, good question. Well, Firefox is a tiny little browser with not too many features. You can add loads and loads of features to it really easily, but it doesn’t arrive with them all installed. Opera is a tiny little browser with an email program, a chat program, a flash plugin, different versions for your PDA and your internet–enabled mobile phone. But. The Mozilla Foundation, which makes Firefox, isn’t a company and it has hordes of admirers all over the world who collaborate on writing the software and are fanatical about promoting it. They’re going to take out a fullpage ad in the New York Times, for example, to let the masses know about Firefox. Opera Software, on the other hand, has a loyal multitude of users who have been around for years and greet each new release with microscopic eyes, finding out what can be made better but not being able to help in its evolution: the company does that side of things. And since it’s a company, you either have to let Opera display text or graphical ads, or pay a small one–off fee to disable them. Or you could just go here instead.

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