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Clearing Internet Explorer barriers to using Firefox

In this tip, Nigel McFarlane helps IT pros navigate around IE and, in one case, ponders the fate of Netscape 8.0

IT professionals have jumped on the Firefox bandwagon, but some have run into Internet Explorer roadblocks. In this tip, Mozilla expert Nigel McFarlane helps them navigate around IE and, in one case, ponders the fate of Netscape 8.0.

IT pro: Not all sites I went to would work correctly with FireFox. Is that due to JavaScript differences? I tried to use both browsers for a day or so more (using FireFox as my primary browser, and only launching IE when I hit a non-working site) but then I was basically building up two sets of Web site bookmarks, one in each browser. So, now I'm back to using just IE. Do you have any ideas about how I could use Firefox only?

McFarlane: You're right; a few sites use JavaScript that only Internet Explorer understands. You can turn JavaScript off in the browser. That will help for some sites, but not for all of them. You can also install the IEview Extension in Firefox. This is a handly way to fallback to IE when poorly designed pages appear. Using this little enhancement, you work all the time in Firefox, storing your bookmarks there. If a page or bookmark is ever IE specific, just right-click to bring up the context menu, and choose to view in IE. Even if the page doesn't display properly in Firefox, you can still bookmark it there and use IE to display it every time.

Your bookmark problem is easy to fix if you've got lots and lots from the IE days. Firefox can read IE bookmarks (File, Import... from the Bookmark Manager), and can export its own bookmarks into a format that IE can import.

IT pro: My searches on Internet Explorer give me a mess of dozens of open windows that I have to click through to find the right answer. Does Firefox offer a better way?

McFarlane: Sure, tabbed browsing is central to Firefox's design. The problem you have in IE is that every time you click on a link, your concentration on the current page is broken while that link creates a new window, or while that link replaces the page you were studying. Tabbed browsing lets you keep the current page, but also cherry pick the other pages you're interested in for later reading. To do this, just bring up your page of search results as per normal. Instead of plain left-clicking on each interesting link, Control-left-click, or middle (scroll-wheel) click. That puts the link's page in a tab behind the current page. Since the current page doesn't lose the focus you can repeat this as many times as you like. When you've got everything you want, just bring those tabs to the fore one at a time by clicking on their labels at the top of the content area.

IT pro: I have a problem with Firefox 1.0.1. When I was using Mozilla or Firefox 1.0, I was able to left click on a link in an e-mail to access another e-mail account. With FireFox 1.1.0, I have to right click on the link to tell Firefox 1.0.1 to open the link in Internet Explorer. Then suddenly I found out by accident that I was able to left click on a link to access my e-mail account. Sadly, that solution didn't last. It seemed to let me do that only once. Do you have any suggestions to solve this problem?

McFarlane: I think you're talking about Web-based e-mail. Whoever provides the Web-based e-mail system is responsible for making it work cross browser. If you're talking about starting up e-mail from a Web browser, then you need to make sure that (on Windows) you have a default e-mail client set up. If you do, then clicking on mail links should work fine. You can test this out by saving a plain text file with a .eml extension to disk. Double-click the file and see if any e-mail application starts up. If not, fix that and then restart Firefox.

IT pro: How will Netscape 8.0 compare to Firefox? Is it too late for a revival of Netscape?

McFarlane: Netscape 8.0 is built on top of Firefox, with some Internet Explorer additions. So it's pretty similar and Web pages will display the same in both -- at least when Netscape is in "Gecko compatibility mode."

Whether Netscape succeeds or not will depend on AOL's portal strategy more than on the qualities of the browser. Use Netscape 8.0 if you want the full Netscape-branded experience. Don't use it if you just want to surf the Web.

Nigel McFarlane is an open source software analyst and technologist, as well as a site expert for His latest book is Firefox Hacks from O'Reilly Media.

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