Browser Wars: Mozilla Firefox 4 vs. Internet Explorer 9

Firefox 4 is here. "A new look. Super speed. Even more awesomeness," Mozilla's website teases. As of this writing, nearly 400,000 people have downloaded the new browser, which was only made available this morning. But is that enough? Less than two weeks after the release of Internet Explorer 9, Mozilla has released the latest iteration of its popular -- the most popular -- Web browser. Both companies are hoping to reverse a trend that has plagued them for years.

Ever since early 2003, when it held 88 percent of the market, according to w3schools, which maintains a running log of browser statistics month by month, Internet Explorer has been losing customers. Last month, it held only 26.5 percent of the market. Mozilla's Firefox, which didn't debut until 2005, rapidly stole users from Internet Explorer, peaking in mid-2009 at 48 percent. Now Firefox controls about 42 percent of the market. But both browsers have lost customers to Google's Chrome and Safari.

How will they win them back? They won't -- but they could staunch the bleeding by copying some of the most stand-out features offered by the competition. The new iterations of Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox both demonstrate how much of an impact Google's Chrome has had on the market. Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4 offer browsers that are faster and less cluttered than previous versions. (Chrome is famous for its minimalist interface.) By combining several of the options and buttons and tools and fields that sit at the top of your default browser, both IE 9 and Firefox 4 have cleared up more space for website display.

As a result, Mozilla is claiming that Firefox 4 is more than three times faster than Firefox 3.6. Going one step further, Internet Explorer 9 comes with an option that, when activated, will alert you which toolbars and plug-ins are slowing down your browser's performance. If you decide you can live without these additional features, IE9 will remove them for you.

Both browsers share one other important feature: They're pitching themselves as middlemen, protecting you from the evils of the Internet. With Facebook's many missteps over the past year or two, Internet users have grown noticeably more concerned about their online privacy. They know that advertisers are targeting them and watching their every move through cookies and other tricks. And they don't, for the most part, want anything to do with it.

IE 9 allows users to enable a "tracking protection list," which will alert sites you visit that you don't want to be tracked. Websites -- and advertisers -- are not required (yet) to cooperate, but it's assumed that most, facing increasing pressure from users, will.

While both browsers are obvious improvements on previous versions, they don't offer the security that Google's Chrome does, according to the Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro. "Although Google's browser automatically updates two major security risks -- the plug-ins used to display Adobe Flash multimedia and Portable Document Format file -- IE doesn't even warn you that you're running out-of-date, unsafe versions," Pegoraro wrote in his comparison of the two browsers. "Firefox 4 can, but it's up to you to install updates."

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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