Mozilla released the Firefox 3 Internet browser on Tuesday and is working on setting a Guinness record for the most software downloaded in 24 hours. There are a lot of people who like Firefox a lot.

If you haven’t been following along, Firefox is an Internet browser that can be installed for free on Windows XP and Vista as an alternative to Internet Explorer. It is also available for Linux and Macs, making it easier for people to go back and forth among different operating systems. It has important ties to the growing community of open source developers and is sponsored by a company that is not strictly a nonprofit but pledges to be running itself for the greater good rather than for profit. It has been gaining market share rapidly for the last few years and is currently the second most-used Internet browser; the launch of Firefox 3 has been planned to generate gobs of publicity that will increase public awareness and market share.

firefox You may download and install Firefox 3 with my blessing, but I want you to stop for just a second before you do.

I run happy computers. I try to make your computers happy. My guiding principle to accomplish that is to install software only when it’s necessary to do something useful that can’t be done as well by something already on the computer.

You’re running an up to date Windows XP or Vista computer with Internet Explorer 7, a browser that is fast and secure. I don’t want you to install Firefox unless you have some idea of why you’re installing it!

There are really only two possibilities.

  • Firefox is produced by independent and enthusiastic people who are not Microsoft. For many people that is a sufficient reason to prefer it.
  • Firefox has features that are not offered in Internet Explorer that you want to explore – particularly the rich world of addons that extend and change the browser’s features and look.

Here’s an extensive review of the new features in Firefox 3 and the things that distinguish it from Internet Explorer 7. Go read it! (There’s no shortage of writeups and reviews. Here’s another enthusiastic description.) If you decide to install it and use those new and distinctive features, that’s great. It won’t hurt your computer and you may come to love it. Many people do.

But for many of you, the only reason to install Firefox will be that a well-meaning friend told you that it’s cool, or a newspaper article speaks highly of it. In that case, think about not going there! You’ll be installing a lovely, duplicative piece of software that will require care and attention – security updates are inevitable and plans are already laid for version 3.1, with more super swell stuff, which will inevitably be followed by 3.2 and 3.3 and 4.0. In the long run, installing unnecessary software is a recipe for an unhappy computer.

I’m not going to be installing Firefox. I look at the reviews and see it praised for its speed, which strikes me as a complete non-issue; for the wealth of addons, which most writeups concede frequently cause Firefox to become unstable; for features and security that make it comparable to (but not particularly better than) Internet Explorer 7; and for new features that seem uninteresting. That’s just me! Make your own decision, but make it deliberately, not as a passing thought.

So install Firefox if you choose, and use it in good health. If you’re lucky, you’ll become a Firefox convert, which I think would be great – it’s fun to have something to be enthusiastic about!

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