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(CNN) -- Mozilla previews a new version of its Firefox Web browser today, less than a week after Microsoft unveiled the latest edition of its own Explorer. Here's all you need to know about the fiercest battle on the Web since Microsoft vanquished Netscape in the late 1990s.
Firefox? Wasn't that a Soviet spy plane stolen by Clint Eastwood in the 1980s Cold War classic?
Yes, but the cold war in question here is between Microsoft, the all-conquering software giant, and the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization set up for the purpose of "preserving choice and innovation on the Internet." Firefox is the name of Mozilla's open source Web browser that has shaken the grip of Microsoft's own Explorer browser for the first time since the golden age of Netscape Navigator. Firefox has had more than 200 million downloads since the release of 1.0 in 2004, giving it an estimated 12 percent share of the browser market -- though it still has a long way to go to overturn Explorer's 85 percent of useage share. But it hopes Tuesday's launch of Firefox 2.0 will help it chip a little further into Microsoft's market dominance.
What is open source software?
Open source refers to free software whose source code is made publicly available, allowing anyone to copy, modify it or redistribute it, thus allowing a program to evolve through the input of a community of programmers. Firefox came into existence after Netscape released the code of its Navigator browser in 1998 under an open source agreement. The open source project was dubbed Mozilla, the codename of Netscape's original browser. Other popular open source programs include the Linux operating system; Open Office, a free downloadable alternative to Microsoft Office; and Mozilla's e-mail program, Thunderbird.
So what's so great about Firefox?
Many converts wax lyrically about its tabbed browsing, which enables users to open several Web sites within the same window. It is also "lighter" than Explorer and has generally been considered more secure than Microsoft's browser -- although it has also suffered its own security problems as usage has increased. New features of 2.0 include phishing protection, an enhanced search tool, improved tab browsing, an integrated spellchecker and a session restore feature that will restore windows, tabs and search forms in the event of a crash. Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering at Mozilla, says the new Firefox has been developed with the rich media environment of Web 2.0 in mind.
Down with Bill Gates' evil empire, huh?
Not just yet. Microsoft got in its retaliation early by releasing its latest weapon in the browser wars, Internet Explorer 7, last week -- the first complete overhaul of the program in more than five years. Explorer 7 allows Microsoft loyalists to experience tabbed browsing for the first time and also includes an RSS reader and a page zoom feature. Microsoft also claims to have tightened up the security flaws that made Explorer 6 a regular target for malicious hackers, though that may have had more to do with Microsoft's Goliath-like status than anything inherently wrong with the software. And Explorer 7 will have the added advantage of being the default browser when Microsoft releases its new Vista operating system next year.
Any other options for dissenting geeks?
Apple users will probably be familiar with Safari, the default browser for the MAC OS operating system since 2003. Eastern European users seem to like the Norwegian-developed Opera browser, which has hit 11 percent usage in Ukraine and eight percent in Russia, and is also likely to get a boost with the release next year of Nintendo's Wii console, for which it will be the standard browser. But for the foreseeable future, it looks like everyone else is going to be confined to the sidelines while Microsoft and Mozilla slug it out for supremacy.
Mozilla's Firefox has claimed a 12 percent share of the browser market.
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