Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Software solutions – Firefox

Posted in Articles, My publications, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on October 1, 2005

I read in the newspaper today that Internet Explorer has security problems

That’s right, which is why you should always use the latest version of software. Microsoft periodically releases upgrades that fix newly found security problems. On the other hand, you could just get Firefox instead.

What’s that?

Like Internet Explorer, Firefox is web browser software. But it is more secure and has several features that improve your browsing experience. For example, it automatically blocks popup windows.

I hate those—it irritates me when I’m trying to read a page and a window pops up trying to sell me something

Firefox protects you from these. In fact if you like this feature you will love the Adblock extension. Extensions are small programs that add to the features of Firefox, and Adblock is one of the most popular. It allows you to block any picture on a page by clicking on it with the right mouse button, then clicking “Adblock image.” You will find this handy on pages that use colorful flashing adverts that distract you from reading the text.

Brilliant. Any more tips like these?

Firefox has tabs. These allow you to look at several pages within the same window. Each page has its own “tab,” a rectangle at the top. Clicking on a tab shows its page and hides the other pages. Switching between tabs makes it easy to keep track of several webpages without cluttering your computer screen by adding extra browser windows.

I’m not sure I see the attraction. Does it have any features that are useful to doctors?

Certainly. In the top right corner of Firefox is a rectangle. Type some text, press the return key and Firefox uses Google to search the web for pages that contain your text. This is a handy feature because it saves you time.

The clever bit comes because Google is not the only search engine available to you. Click on the arrow on the left hand side of the rectangle, then click on “Add Engines” to get a full list. It includes the National Centre for Biotechnology Information’s (NCBI) PubMed, so you do literature searches, and the NCBI Bookshelf, so you refer to biomedical textbooks.

In fact, tabs and PubMed work well together. When scrolling down the list of results from a PubMed search, click with the right mouse button on the title of any paper that you think would be useful. Then with the left mouse button click on “Open Link in New Tab.” A new tab appears in the background. When you are done looking at the list of results you can look at each of the tabs that you had opened to read the abstracts of each of the papers. In other words, Firefox allows you to keep track of all of these papers without interrupting your train of thought as you read the list of results.

I see how that could be useful. But it sounds rather complicated

If you managed to use Internet Explorer you will find Firefox familiar and easy to use. Just like in Internet Explorer you type the website address in the rectangle at the top of the window and press return to visit the website. And to follow a link to another webpage, click on the blue underlined words. The extra features like extensions, tabs, and search engines are useful but not intrusive. You can easily ignore them. However, try them out once—you will always want to use them.

Sounds great. But how much will all of this cost me?

Nothing. It is available free of charge and you are free to install it on as many computers as you want.

See? There must be a catch—spyware, viruses, advertising?

Nothing of the sort. Firefox is free from spyware, protects you from many viruses, and its popup-blocking and Adblock extension prevent annoying adverts from interrupting your reading. But it is available to you because it was collaboratively built by programmers  around the world working under the Free Software GPL license. That also explains its quality—the programming code is available for anyone to look at and critique, which raises standards in the same way that peer review does for clinical research.

So how do I get it?

You can download a copy from www.mozilla.org. Alternatively, many computer magazines include the software
on their bundled CDs. This can save you time and money if you only have dialup internet access. Finally, the website www.8daysaweek.co.uk sells the OpenOffice CD for £10.99. This includes Firefox but also OpenOffice, an alternative to Microsoft Office, and a whole bunch of other GPL Free Software tools.

Published in BMJ Career Focus 2005;331;140.

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