“US Government warns against Internet Explorer”

At first I thought it was an Onion-type parody. But it’s not.

A bit off-topic, but not really: As i posted earlier, I changed to Firefox (yes, I still plan to try opera, though the idea of ads on the screen bugs me) and want to uninstall IE altogether — but I can’t. I find that when i go to certain sites, like my Asian bank where i still have a bit of $$, I cannot enter my user name and PIN with Firefox. When I switch to Explorer, it works fine.

This is extremely frustrating and it tells me that try as we might to wean ourselves off of Microsoft, it is still a Bill Gates world and we have no choice but to acquiece. This is exactly why monopolies are so scary — they leave us with no choice.

It’s especially upsetting when the one choice we are left with sucks. (Fascinating, that in the long discussion about browsers a few days ago, not a single person defended MS IE; everyone seems to hate it, and yet we are forced to use it, at least sometimes.)

UPDATE: Slate on Firefox:

You’ve probably been told to dump Internet Explorer for a Mozilla browser before, by the same propeller-head geek who wants you to delete Windows from your hard drive and install Linux. You’ve ignored him, and good for you. Microsoft wiped out Netscape in the Browser Wars of the late 1990s not only because the company’s management pushed the bounds of business ethics, but also because its engineers built a better browser. When Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale approved the Mozilla project—an open-source browser based on Netscape’s code—in 1998, it seemed like a futile act of desperation.

But six years later, the surviving members of the Mozilla insurgency are staging a comeback. The latest version of Firefox, released this Monday, has a more professional look, online help, and a tool that automatically imports your bookmarks, history, site passwords, and other settings from Explorer. Meanwhile, all-conquering Internet Explorer has been stuck in the mud for the past year, as Microsoft stopped delivering new versions. The company now rolls out only an occasional fix as part of its Windows updates. Gates and company won the browser war, so why keep fighting it?

The problem is that hackers continue to find and exploit security holes in Explorer. Many of them take advantage of Explorer’s ActiveX system, which lets Web sites download and install software onto visitors’ computers, sometimes without users’ knowledge. ActiveX was meant to make it easy to add the latest interactive multimedia and other features to sites, but instead it’s become a tool for sneaking spyware onto unsuspecting PCs. That’s why the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a partnership between the tech industry and Homeland Security, recently took the unusual step of advising people to consider switching browsers. Whether or not you do, US-CERT advises increasing your Internet Explorer security settings, per Microsoft’s instructions. (Alas, the higher setting disables parts of Slate’s interface.) Even if you stop using Explorer, other programs on your computer may still automatically launch it to connect to sites.

Firefox eschews ActiveX and other well-known infection paths. You can configure it to automatically download most files when you click on them, but not .exe files, which are runnable programs. I thought this was a bug before I realized Firefox was saving me from myself, since .exe files could be viruses or stealth installers.

There is much, much more to this article. If you’re still wondering about why you should make the switch, it’s pretty convincing.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

Hey, I said something positive about internet explorer; said it was useful for downloading Mozilla after you installed windows :)

I had one site where only Internet explorer would work and that was … *roll of drums * … msn hotmail ! :) I couldn’t log in under mozilla. But now I can even go there – I don’t know if Mozilla upgraded or if Microsoft decided to stop it’s site from not talking back to foreign browsers.

June 30, 2004 @ 12:16 pm | Comment

Actually, I’ve just recently installed the most up to date version of Opera (7.51), and now the ad is even less intrusive… just 2 lines of text between the Menu Bar and the toolbars. I know a lot of people are put off by the ad, but it’s really not so bad.

June 30, 2004 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

The only time when I’ll use IE (very infrequently) is when a site borks in Firefox/Opera. It’s mildly annoying, but there are still web “designers” who develop only on IE and never bother to check their sites in any other browser.

Notably, one or two companies (whose sites I must use) seem to have been built using scads of ActiveX controls and it chokes in Firefox. So, with great reluctance, I fire up the spawn of the devil, quickly mutter an imprecation on Bill’s head, and as soon as I can ditch IE for Firefox.

June 30, 2004 @ 5:36 pm | Comment

My bank’s Internet Banking must use ActiveX controls — the boxes for entering my username are usually nice and white, with a blinking cursor waiting for me to enter my data. With Firefox, the box is gray-shaded and cursorless, and totally non-functional. I switch to IE, and it’s fine. It’s a shame, because I’d love to rid my system of this huge program file, made even huger with constant patches and updates.

Imron, I presume Opera, too, has its sites that refuse to cooperate…?

June 30, 2004 @ 6:23 pm | Comment

I’m using Firefox 0.9, and I use it to check my Hotmail account every day. It works perfectly, viewing folders, composing new messages, everything works great.

As far as the ad in Opera goes… most people (myself included, and I’m a pretty big computer geek) can use Firefox and it will meet their needs 99% of the time. So the way I see it, why use something w/ an ad in it? Firefox has most if not all of the major, necessary features that Opera does, and its feature-set grows daily via extensions (plugins).

Additionally, as far as the sites go that don’t display perfectly, you can get an extension for Firefox that puts an option for “View in IE” in the right-click context menu… Simple, but it just makes things easier and makes it less of a hassle to load a site in IE that doesn’t get along well w/ Firefox.

And lastly, Firefox is completely free, its source code is fully open to anyone, anyone can write code for it (as long as your code does something useful). So by using Firefox, you’re supporting the volunteers that made the application… Thats probably the biggest reason I prefer it over Opera.

June 30, 2004 @ 7:05 pm | Comment

Richard> Unfortunately Opera doesn’t support ActiveX either. As far as I’m aware it’s considered too much of a security risk by both Opera and Mozilla – so yes, Opera does have its sites that refuse to cooperate.

Unfortunately for sites like that, the best you can do is send off a letter of complaint to the webmaster.

June 30, 2004 @ 7:59 pm | Comment

Forrest> Yes Firefox has copied much of Opera’s functionality, but personally I think Opera has a better implementation. So, why use something with an ad? Because overall I find that Opera provides me with a better user experience, and the ad doesn’t detract from that.

As for features, and extendability, it’s true that Opera can only be exteded by it’s developers, however Opera contains many features by default that people are writing Firefox extensions for, and yet it is still a smaller download and install than Firefox.

Anyway, I think we’re both unlikely to be able to convice the other to change their mind about this matter, and that’s where I say vive la difference :-)

Finally, yes Open Source and Free Software is nice, but proprietry software also has it’s place. I’m also a big computer geek (being a software engineer it’s kind of par for the course), and in my last job was even developing apps (both proprietry and open) for Linux. However if for example you’ve ever spent a day dicking around with XIM servers and config files trying to get decent Chinese input under Linux, then you come to appreciate it when under Windows you can just click “Install, Next, Next, Next” and everything works.

June 30, 2004 @ 8:28 pm | Comment

imron- I agree with your vive la difference idea totally. I’m a KDE fan but I also totally appreciate the Gnome project. I would think that the Mozilla/Firefox developers and the Opera developers actually corroborate sometimes on things… maybe I’m wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I was correct.

Opera is a great browser, I just like the way Firefox, which is GTK compliant, fits into my desktop alongside other GTK apps as well as my QT ones. It just seems to fit better than Opera does. Opera may be GTK compliant too, but I’m not sure…

One thing that really bugs me about Opera is that when I start it up, it completely locks my computer for about 2 seconds. My machine isn’t a huge powerhorse, buts its pretty nice… Athlon XP 2200+, 768MB of RAM, running on an i686-optimized Linux distro (Gentoo). I don’t know what the problem is… its the only real app I’ve had a problem with that I’ve installed from Gentoo’s portage… but its okay, I like Firefox more. I don’t really care about the small footprint of Opera, I have 180 GB of space on this machine…Man, I use Evolution for email and its a resource hog like MS Outlook is… but you have educated me more about Opera, so I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to someone who didn’t like Firefox and wanted something different…

Wow, look at all this geek speak on Richard’s blog… hopefully he doesn’t mind!

June 30, 2004 @ 11:35 pm | Comment

Forrest> yeah Opera does have a problem with its startup times. I’m guessing it’s due to their use of packed executables which then need to be unpacked before running.

Yep, quite a lot of geek speak… hence a longer more geeky reply being sent to your inbox :-)

July 1, 2004 @ 1:06 am | Comment

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