New statistics show Firefox is moving steadily to the top

browser market share

Is there still really a browser war? Microsoft hasn’t updated its browser in how many years? So obviously they might not seem to care about internet users. Nonetheless, new statistics are showing that Firefox and Safari are gaining more ground as the browser of choice for web users. Internet Explorer has been losing ground steadily since Firefox was initially released. This new batch of browser market share stats put together by Market Share by Net Applications, shows that IE is at its lowest point since 2005, sitting at 82%. While Firefox is gaining ground from 7.5% in September 2005, to 12.4% in September 2006. The new IE 7 is supposedly due out this month (beta release is out now) with a complete redesign and overhaul, but will consumers bite? Are internet users sick of the lack of updates and compliance issues with IE? Will Google continue to lead and grow the evolution and mass adoption of Firefox? We shall only see in next Septembers browser stats.
We want to hear what you have to say about this. What browser do you use? And what makes it better than all the rest?

Full Story

[originating url]

Sticking with Windows XP in a Windows Vista World

Article originally published by Paul Thurrott on

Obviously, I spend a lot of time working with beta software. If you’re envious of that for some reason, consider this little slice of “grass is always greener” logic: Sometimes I wish my PCs just worked. Sometimes I wish I just used my computers as the tools that they are, and didn’t have to spend so much time installing, reinstalling, and fixing problems. From my side of the fence, your lawn is looking pretty darned good too.

What I’m getting at is that the Next Big Thing isn’t always a given. Sure, Windows Vista is cool, sort of, and it’s got some neat new functionality. But what would you say if I told you that the vast majority of new end user features in Windows Vista were already available to you–most of them for free, no less–in Windows XP? And that by skipping Windows Vista, at least for the time being, you’d be left with a PC that was faster, more compatible with the software and hardware you own, and just about as capable as an otherwise identical PC running Windows Vista?

Well, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. No, you can’t get the Windows Aero user experience without Vista, though I suspect the wizards over at Stardock will get pretty close. But do you really need Aero, along with its annoying incompatibilities, many of which result in sudden and jarring jumps into the Windows Basic interface? And no, most of Windows Vista’s security features aren’t available to XP users either, but you know what? You might not need them either, especially if your system is adequately defended with a hardware firewall and a good security software suite.

I’m talking about pure end user goodness here. Applications that are supposed to make people want Windows Vista. Things like the Windows Sidebar, Windows Calendar, Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Media Player 11. These and other Vista-specific applications are really neat, but you can get identical or nearly identical applications on Windows XP too. And by doing so, you can eek some more time out of your XP investment, save up for a future Vista PC, or just avoid all the headaches that go along with upgrading to a new Windows version. Sure, you’ve waited 5 years for Windows Vista, but so what? Will another 6 months or a year be a problem? Really?

If you’d like to stick with Windows XP for a while longer, here’s some good news. You don’t need Windows Vista. And as I’ll describe in the next section, there are plenty of excellent solutions out there that will make you forget all about Redmond’s next operating system. At least for a little while.

XP replacements for popular Windows Vista applications and features

Windows Search: Windows Desktop Search

Back in 2003, Microsoft proudly showed off the WinFS-based Windows Search features it then planned to include in Windows Vista. Since then, three years of delays have allowed competitors like Google and Apple to take note of Microsoft’s strategy and release desktop search packages of their own. Today, there are plenty of desktop search products available for Windows XP. You’ve got your pick.

In my mind, the contest comes down to two choices. If you’re looking for the XP search tool that most closely resembles Windows Search on Vista–mostly because it’s based on the same technology–then Microsoft’s Windows Desktop Search (WDS) is the way to go. WDS replaces XP’s Start Menu-based Search tool with a far more functional version and provides you with a handy taskbar-based Deskbar.

If you’re looking for a bit more, consider Google Desktop as well. Like WDS, Google Desktop provides a taskbar-based Deskbar for quick hard drive searching. But Google Desktop also includes an interesting Sidebar feature that is very similar–but more capable–than the Sidebar feature in Windows Vista (see below). If you think you want to use both desktop search and a Sidebar-like feature, look into Google Desktop.

Both WDS and Google Desktop are free. WDS offers better shell integration than does Google Desktop, which runs its local searches in a Web browser just like Google Web search.

Windows Defender: Anti-spyware

When Microsoft purchased Giant Company Software in December 2004, I knew Windows users were in for a treat: I was a dedicated and enthusiastic Giant Antispyware user and knew it was the best anti-spyware solution on the market. Now, Microsoft’s version of Giant Antispyware, dubbed Windows Defender, is an integrated part of Windows Vista. But here’s good news for XP fans: Windows Defender is available for free on XP as well. And unlike some Vista applications that have been made available on XP in slightly-hobbled form, the XP version of Windows Defender is just as good as the Vista version.

Unlike some other security features, such as firewalls and anti-virus solutions, it’s not only feasible but advisable to run two or more anti-spyware solutions side-by-side on the same machine. For this reason, you should consider a second anti-spyware product. There’s been a lot of confusion in this space, and many people seem to have particular favorites, often for nonsensical reasons. My choice is ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware, which is only $19.99 (you can also get it as part of the excellent ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite).

Internet Explorer 7: Web browser

Say what you will about Internet Explorer–I certainly have–but version 7 is not just the best IE version yet, it’s also a credible challenger to the current Web browser champion, Mozilla Firefox. Best of all, Internet Explorer 7 is available for XP as well, though it loses two key Vista features, IE Protected Mode and parental controls integration. It’s still worth it: IE 7 is more capable and more secure than its predecessor. Even if you’re not going to use IE regularly, upgrade IE 6 to IE 7 as soon as possible.

It’s a tough call, but I’m going to remain with Mozilla Firefox. While I recognize that most mainstream Windows users will continue to use IE, I feel that Firefox is still safer, and it’s definitely got some unique features that are missing in IE 7, though the gap is closing. However, both IE 7 and Firefox are superior to IE 6.

Windows Sidebar and Gadgets: Mini-Applications

Windows Sidebar is an onscreen real estate-stealing panel designed to hold HTML- and script-based mini-applications that Microsoft calls Gadgets. The Sidebar is clearly a reaction to Apple’s Dashboard feature, which hosts HTML- and script-based mini-applications that Apple calls Widgets. Dashboard, in turn, was clearly ripped off from Konfabulator (since purchased by Yahoo) and other desktop customization utilities like Stardock Object Desktop.

If you’re into this kind of thing, there are a number of XP-based solutions. Microsoft is reportedly working on an XP version of Sidebar, but I haven’t seen any code since January and Microsoft has been curiously silent on the issue. But you could always go with the original, Konfabulator, which is now called Yahoo Widget Engine. This solution is more similar to Apple Dashboard–go figure–than Windows Sidebar, however, and doesn’t include a screen edge-mounted panel of any kind. So if you’re looking for something that more closely mimics Sidebar, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

I mentioned Google Desktop previously as a replacement for Windows Search. Google Desktop also includes a Sidebar-like mini application environment called the Dashboard, and it’s a decent Sidebar replacement, though it offers the standard Spartan Google interface. The Google Desktop Dashboards hosts HTML-, XML-, and COM-based mini-applications called Google Gadgets, and as you’d expect from a Google service, there are all kinds of useful Gadgets out there.

Windows Backup: File Backup and Restore

The new backup functionality in Windows is Windows Vista is as full-featured as it is attractive. In fact, it’s so full-featured that it offers both file backup and restoration features and image-based full-PC backup, the latter of which uses the VHD virtual machine format first developed for Virtual PC.

System imaging is pretty much a power user feature, but everyone should be regularly backing up their data. The problem is that virtually no one does. Vista’s Backup and Restore Center, with its automated backup feature, should help fix that problem in the future. But if you’re using Windows XP today, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

There are plenty of decent backup applications out there, but my favorite also happens to be part of a complete PC protection and maintenance suite called Windows Live OneCare. It’s not free, but it’s not expensive either, and I’ve seen it available for as little as $15 after rebates (it’s typically about $20). Windows Live OneCare is a must have for a variety of reasons–it’s got tremendous anti-virus and firewall features, integrates with Windows Defender, and keeps your PC running at full speed by regularly defragging the hard drive. But the best feature, perhaps, is its Backup and Restore functionality, which lets you backup data automatically to external hard drives or optical media.

Windows Mail: Email

Windows Mail–aka Outlook Express 7.0–is one of the few Windows Vista applications that has almost no redeeming value. Therefore, even those who do upgrade to Windows Vista should look elsewhere for an email application. The commercial alternative–Microsoft Outlook–is your best bet. But if you don’t have Outlook and don’t feel like paying for it, fear not. There are plenty of excellent alternatives.>

If you’re looking for a standalone email client, look at both Mozilla Thunderbird and Microsoft Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta. Both are free, though WLM Desktop is ad-supported, unless you pay for a Hotmail Plus or MSN account. WLM Desktop is the most similar to Windows Mail; indeed, it’s based on the same Outlook Express underpinnings. But unlike Windows Mail, WLM Desktop supports Web mail accounts like Hotmail.

Don’t be afraid to consider a Web-based email client. Most of the new generation Web mail clients are quite nice, but the winner, by far, is Yahoo Mail (currently in beta). Gmail (from Google) and Windows Live Mail (which works with Hotmail accounts) are functionally similar, but neither is as attractive in a Web browser.

Windows Calendar: Standards-Based Scheduling

Windows Calendar is a tough one: It’s nicely designed and has all the sharing features you’d expect from an iCal-based application. Frankly, there isn’t a standalone calendar application that comes close on Windows. The only exception is the Calendar component of Microsoft Outlook: If you have that, just use Outlook. If you don’t, your options are a bit more limited.

The Mozilla Corporation, responsible for some of the finest Web browser (Firefox) and email (Thunderbird) applications on the planet, is also working on a standalone calendar application codenamed Sunbird. Mozilla Sunbird isn’t as fine-tuned as Firefox or Thunderbird, and it certainly isn’t as fully developed. But even the current pre-release Sunbird versions are decent enough for regular use. My guess is it will get more attractive over time.

If you’re already using Web-based email, the major vendors of those services–Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo–all offer Web-based calendars as well. Curiously, Yahoo’s entry isn’t particularly nice looking (unlike its new Web mail), but then neither Google Calendar nor Hotmail Calendar are particularly Web 2.0 either. If I had to pick one above the others, it would be Google Calendar. Why? Like most Google services, Google Calendar is supported by a wide range of third party add-ons and has a nice community of users. It’s also updated fairly frequently.

Windows Photo Gallery: Photo Management and Sharing

With Windows XP, Microsoft was pushing a task-based photo management scheme that was based in the files and folders of the Windows shell, and not in a standalone application. The success of Apple’s iPhoto on the Mac OS X platform proved, however, that users prefer to use a nicely-designed, attractive, and functional application for photo management. So Vista, as is so often the case, follows in OS X’s footsteps with an application, Windows Photo Gallery, that handles photo management, importing, and sharing.

To be fair, Windows Photo Gallery isn’t actually an iPhoto clone. No, as it turns out, Microsoft already had an excellent photo management solution, which it had been selling as Digital Image Suite. Photo Gallery is simply a pared down version of Digital Image Suite 2006, so if you want something that works like Photo Gallery but is even more capable, that’s the way to go.

Of course, Digital Image Suite isn’t free. What’s amazing is that you can get an application that offers much of the functionality of both Windows Photo Gallery and Digital Image Suite 2006, but is absolutely free. It’s called Google Picasa 2, and it’s a fantastic application. Since it’s a Google application, Picasa utilizes Google’s search engine to automatically find all the photos on your PC, regardless of where they’re hidden. But its editing and sharing features are excellent too, and a recent update adds Picasa Web Albums compatibility, so you can upload your photos easily to Google’s version of Flickr.

Windows Media Player 11: Digital Media Jukebox

Microsoft’s next-generation version of Windows Media Player had its thunder stolen recently when Apple finally shipped a version of iTunes, iTunes 7, that includes beautiful album art views. But the real irony here is that the best looking version of Windows Media Player 11 is available for Windows XP, not Windows Vista. Weird, eh?

Anyway, if Windows Media Player isn’t your thing, fear not. There are better digital media jukeboxes out there. My favorite is, go figure, Apple iTunes 7. It was recently updated to fix the stability issues that dogged the initial iTunes 7 release, and it’s got a much cleaner and professional-looking interface than does Windows Media Player.

Windows Movie Maker 6: Digital Movie Editingp

The version of Windows Movie Maker (WMM) included with Windows Vista is the best yet, with support for Microsoft’s recorded TV (dvr-ms) format and outputting in various HD formats. But XP users already have a very capable digital movie editor in Windows Movie Maker 2, and if you can live without those two aforementioned new features, you pretty much already have everything you need.

Windows Media Center: Digital Media in the Living Room

The Windows Vista version of Windows Media Center (WMC) is an evolutionary upgrade over the version offered in Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, though it should be more widely distributed thanks to its inclusion in two Windows Vista product editions, Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. It also includes unique new features like DVD jukebox integration and digital/high-definition television support. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any true analog to Vista’s WMC. If you have Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, however, you get most of the best WMC features.

But what if you don’t have XP Media Center 2005? Snapstream Beyond TV 4.x offers the same digital video recording (DVR) functionality as Media Center, but without any of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) silliness that bogs down Media Center (with protected content anyway; Media Center won’t let you share certain content, such as that recorded on HBO or Cinemax). Note that Beyond TV is not free, however: The download version is $69.99, and of course you’ll need a TV tuner card and possibly other hardware. Check the Snapstream Web site for some reasonable bundles.

Final thoughts

In the interests of complete disclosure, there are definitely important new features in Windows Vista that you just can’t get anywhere else. But for many XP users–and let’s face it, we’re talking about several hundred million people here–there’s no need to upgrade to Windows Vista right away. To stave off the sense of loss that might accompany any decision to hold off on that upgrade, I hope this list of applications and services helps. But if you absolutely have to get Windows Vista right away, logic be damned, fear not: I’m working on a similar list of gotta-have-it Vista features as well. I’ll be looking into these reasons why you simply won’t want avoid Windows Vista in a future showcase. –Paul Thurrott


Windows Desktop Search

Windows Defender

Mozilla Firefox

Google Desktop

Windows Live OneCare

Mozilla Thunderbird

Yahoo Mail Beta

Mozilla Sunbird

Google Picasa 2

Apple iTunes 7

Windows Movie Maker 2

Snapstream Beyond TV 4.x

[originating url]

Internet Explorer 7, out this month?

IE7So, Internet Explorer 7 will be here, ready for rockem, sockem jet-pack action (or not) in the next few weeks. I am still not convinced that IE7 is quite safe enough to use in every day browsing, and it is not extensible, I will still stick with Firefox, but IE is coming. Microsoft will release the update via Automatic Update to Microsoft Windows users “in the next few weeks as it becomes available.” Via the IEBlog, you can download IE7 RC1 to test for compatibility issues, the IE7 readiness kit, Application Compatibility Toolkit, or visit the IE development center, or read the Automatic Update announcement. Whether or not IE is ready for the world, that is still up for debate, but now at least you can be ready for it.

Source: IEBlog : IE7 Is Coming This Month…Are you Ready?

Windows Vista Pre-RC1: Sucks Too

This review can be found here!

And just like that, we can suddenly see the light at the end of the tunnel. All of our hopes, all of our worries, all of whatever feelings we may have for Windows Vista are hanging on the edge of a precipice. Will they ship it on time? Will they ever ship it? Does it even matter?

Increasingly, the actual ship date for Windows Vista does not matter, but not for the reasons you may suspect. Microsoft will ship Windows Vista exactly when they want to, according to the schedule they previously laid out. They’re not delaying it any further, and after releasing the product to manufacturing in late October 2006, businesses can expect to get it via volume licensing in November, followed by consumers and general availability in late January 2007.

Before any of that can happen, however, we have a final milestone to cross. It’s called Release Candidate 1 (RC1) and I expect to be writing a lengthy review of that build–currently slated as build 5552, though of course these things change regularly on an ongoing basis–sometime in about two weeks. For now, however, we have the next best thing, a pre-RC1 interim build, 5536, that offers a peak at many of the best changes Microsoft has made to Windows Vista since the lackluster Beta 2 build.

Windows Vista build 5536, by contrast, is a humdinger.
I’ve been like a bipolar pit bull when it comes to Windows Vista lately. Some builds have been fantastic (at least compared to what came previously). Some have been positively embarrassingly bad. I just spent the past three weeks in France with two Windows Vista-based notebooks and it was like being imprisoned with vipers in the dark: I never knew when I was going to be bit. Windows Vista build 5472, the previous milestone testers received, was, shall we say, performance challenged. There were weird issues deleting desktop files. There was a Recent Items entry in the Start Menu that, curiously, did not actually contain recently accessed items. It was, in short, a bit disappointing.

Windows Vista build 5536, again, is a humdinger.

What’s new in build 5536?

So what’s new in 5536, you ask? Performance is better, even much better. (Though the three times performance improvement baloney you might have read elsewhere is not only impossible but untrue.) It does a much better job of finding and correctly installing device drivers: On my main desktop, even the sound driver worked automatically after the first Windows Update run, a first.

Microsoft’s fledgling Windows Live services have been integrated, annoyingly, into the system. On the good news front, this “integration” isn’t as technically silly as what the company did earlier with such components as Internet Explorer and Windows Messenger. But it is equally annoying.

Instead of installing various Windows Live components by default–which would have been a bad move, not just for antitrust reasons, but because of their constantly updating nature–Microsoft is including numerous shortcuts to various Windows Live services throughout the system. In Welcome Center, for example, there is a new “Offers from Microsoft” section that includes no fewer than seven icons for Microsoft services, five of which are Windows Live services: “Go online to learn about Windows Live,” “Download Windows Live Toolbar,” “Sign up for Windows Live OneCare” (which, naturally, doesn’t work during the beta anyway), “Go online to Windows Marketplace,” “Download Windows Live Mail Desktop,” “Download Windows Live Messenger,” and “Sign up online for technical support.”

Additionally, there is an item called “Windows Live Messenger Download” right in the default Start Menu. As expected, clicking this item launches Internet Explorer, which navigates to the Windows Live Messenger download page online. Unexpectedly, once you download and install Windows Live Messenger, the “Windows Live Messenger Download” link remains in your Start Menu. Silly.

And speaking of Internet Explorer, the most annoying aspect of the Windows Live integration in Vista occurs in everyone’s favorite new Web browser: My default, IE 7 launches with two home pages, one in each tab. The first and topmost home page is, just like before. But the secondary page displays the Windows Live Search site. Big deal, right? The problem is that by opening two tabs at startup, Microsoft is ensuring that most users–i.e. “normal people”–will see an annoying “Do you want to close all tabs?” alert dialog every time they close IE. That’s just wrong.

(This isn’t really notable per se, but IE’s About dialog still uses the “Internet Explorer 7+” naming that Microsoft says it is dropping.)

User Account Control (UAC) has been dramatically improved and let me be among the first to throw out a hearty “thank you” to the UAC team for that. Now, instead of the stunningly annoying “pop” that used to occur every time one of the UAC alert dialogs appeared, the transition is smooth and there is a soft, almost enjoyable, beep sound. This is literally the first time I didn’t reach for the “remove UAC” option after installing a recent Vista build. Bravo.

Special shell folders like Documents, Pictures, Favorites, and Music (but not, curiously, the still second rate Videos) are now color coded in greenish blue to differentiate them from other folders (which are still yellowish). Saved searches are also differentiated, using a soft blue color.

Windows Update now prompts you to install Microsoft Update so that you can get updates for other Microsoft products, like Microsoft Office, directly through Windows Update. If you click on this link, you’re brought to a Web page, which you have to click a single OK box, and then you’re done. Simple.

There’s a new shortcut to the Program Compatibility Wizard on the desktop, so you can try and make Vista-unaware applications work properly. Microsoft warns, however, that you should not use this wizard-based application with older virus detection, backup, or system programs. The problem is, many users won’t understand what that means. What, exactly, is a “system” program?

Windows Media Center shows, perhaps, the biggest performance improvement of any Vista component. The application almost pops to life and, using the “Express” setup option, can be in use almost immediately. I won’t be trying to put Media Center on my family’s Media Center PC again until RC1 hits, but it’s clear that something wonderful has happened here.

In the Personalize section of Control Panel, there are a number of major improvements. First, when you right-click the desktop, you’ll see that the Personalize option has a new icon next to it, making it more prominent and obvious. In Windows Color and Appearance, the default color schemes now have simple color names (Default, Graphite, Blue, Teal, Red, Orange, Pink, and, my favorite, Frost). In Desktop Background, all of the background types (Black and White, Light Auras, etc.) are together in a single list; you no longer have to choose between each type.

As I had hoped, Microsoft augmented the Windows Aero mouse pointer with large and extra large variants. Now if they could just ship black versions too, it would be perfect.

The “shield” icon you see in the system tray for Windows Security Alerts can now be colored yellow or red, depending on the level of warning it’s trying to communicate. For example, the lack of virus protection now rates a yellow warning, and not the more risky red alert.

There’s probably more, but I don’t want to take away too much from my upcoming RC1 review, and to be fair, I’ve only been working with the build since last night. (Too, I just spent an entire day traveling back from France, so I hope it’s understandable that this is necessarily short.)


There’s no doubt about it: Windows Vista has taken too long to ship, and the first major milestone that Microsoft shipped to the public, Beta 2, was a disappointment. Since then, the company has shipped three promising interim builds to testers. The latest one, build 5536, an RC1 escrow build, is simply wonderful. If this build represents the quality, performance, and functionality that users can expect to see in RC1 and the final release, then Microsoft will have gone a long way towards making up for its mistakes and miscalculations. My only question is why we had to wait so long to see a build this good. If you can get your hands on 5536, enjoy it. If not, RC1 will be publicly available. Either way, you likely won’t be disappointed.

Review by: Paul Thurrott @

August 25-26, 2006

Internet Explorer 7 sucks on standards

Boycott IEWindows experts and web developers are unhappy with Microsoft. Yes, again. Since Internet Explorer 7 was announced, Microsoft has promised that supporting current web standards was high on its list. It turns out, though, that by at least one report, IE7 will only support 54% of the CSS 2.1 standard, as compared to 52% in IE6 and 93% in Firefox 1.5 and 96% in Opera 9. In addition to making a whole lot of web developers’ lives a whole lot more difficult, IE7’s lack of standards support is turning off a lot of Microsoft’s most vocal fans, including Paul Thurrott, who runs the excellent Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows. In a recent Windows IT Pro column, Thurrott accuses Microsoft of leaving users and web developers in the lurch, concluding “My advice is simple: Boycott IE. It’s a cancer on the Web that must be stopped. IE isn’t secure and isn’t standards-compliant, which makes it unworkable both for end users and Web content creators.” Ouch.

Yahoo Ships Customized IE7 Beta 2

Yahoo! on Friday released its own customized version of Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2, which sets Yahoo as the default search provider and makes the browser load up the portal’s services upon launch. Yahoo’s homepage loads in the first tab with Yahoo! Mail in the second.

“Yahoo! used the beta version of the Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK) to customize IE7 to meet their needs. The IEAK is available to all developers and partners who want to create their own customized versions of IE7, as well as IT pros who want to use it to ease enterprise deployment,” explained IE7 program manager Dean Hachamovitch.

[originating url]