By PAUL BRISLEN
The web browser wars are over and Microsoft won, right?
Well someone's forgotten to tell Ben Goodger and his team at the Mozilla Foundation because this Kiwi software engineer is taking market share from Internet Explorer (IE) with Firefox, the browser that's smaller yet smarter than just about anything else available.
Goodger, back in New Zealand this week visiting family and friends, works for the Mozilla Foundation and has been the lead engineer on Firefox throughout its development.
He began while still at the University of Auckland waiting for the launch of Netscape 5.0.
"I used Netscape 4.0 and basically was just designing web pages and doing web development work."
The wait for version 5.0 was a long one and when Netscape finally ceased development work on its browser and opened up the source code to the Mozilla Foundation, Goodger found himself taking time off to work in the US on the browser itself.
Today he leads a relatively small team of engineers who are hard at work preparing for the release of Firefox version 1.0 and the Kiwi input is hard to miss.
The code names for the previous versions of Firefox include Three Kings, Royal Oak, One Tree Hill and Greenlane.
Firefox has generated an enormous amount of interest among hardcore internet users around the world and for the first time has taken market share away from Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
Goodger said the figures themselves varied depending on the source but US-based web training organisation W3Schools claimed IE 6.0 peaked in May of this year with 72.6 per cent market share among its "early adopter" users and had fallen back to 68.3 per cent in August.
That's the first time IE has declined in market share since its release and could mark the turning point for the browser community.
The mainstream audience is still firmly in the grasp of IE, however, with figures in excess of 90 per cent reported by several different organisations.
Most, however, report that IE is losing ground to Mozilla-based browsers and most of those switching are using Firefox.
In its first day of release the latest version of Firefox was downloaded more than 300,000 times.
So what is it about Firefox that's attracting users? Goodger said it was a combination of things.
"Some like the added features, some like the smaller size of the browser. It really depends."
Goodger is quick to point out that while Firefox is smaller than other browsers, that doesn't mean it's a "lite" version of a browser.
"It's fully featured. In fact if anything it's got more features that people use than many browsers."
Goodger and his team have been working with one goal in mind: to make a browser that makes the internet simple again.
"Do you remember how it was when you first went online? It was easier to search for things, easier to find things, there were fewer annoyances.
"That's what we want to get back to."
Goodger said Firefox gave users the chance to block pop-up windows, the bane of many users' lives, but went beyond that.
Because the browser was not tied in to the operating system, something Microsoft touted as a benefit for IE users, it was not prone to the same security vulnerabilities as IE.
"We also wanted to make the searching experience much easier for users."
Consequently Firefox has a Google search box built in and allows users to search within a web page simply by typing in the word they're looking for without having to launch a separate search box.
Goodger's favourite feature, however, is Firefox's smart keywords utility.
"It's something that's a little bit hidden so people have been slow to find it but when they do it blows them away."
Users might, for example, regularly use the company phone book online so Firefox allows them to add that search to their browser.
"So you can type in 'PB' for phone book and then someone's name and it'll go and search your phone book for that person."
Goodger uses the facility constantly and said it had changed the way he used the browser.
The feature that excites most users enough to make the change is tabbed browsing, which allows a user to open up multiple pages in the one browser.
Goodger said tabbed browsing was to regular browsing what personal video recorders such as TiVO were to the video recorder.
Features such as these are slowly being added to IE but as Goodger said, they're third party add-ons that just add complexity rather than simplifying the browser experience.
Goodger isn't shy about admitting to taking aspects of other browsers that he likes for use as part of Firefox.
The browser has a download utility that he freely admits he modelled on Apple's long-time capability.
"I always save downloads to my desktop so why should I have to tell the browser that every time?"
Goodger is looking forward to the final release of version 1.0. He's got his eye firmly on the prize, however. Microsoft's market share is up for grabs and this Kiwi is going to make sure he gets a handful.