Do you know which browser you use? "I don't use a 'browser,'" you may be thinking. "All I ever do is surf the Internet, looking for cool websites. What's a 'browser,' anyway?"
A browser is a program that lets you look at websites; that's all it is. It lets you "browse" the Internet, looking at websites. Internet Explorer, which comes as part of the Windows operating system, is a browser. Google Chrome is a browser. Firefox is a browser. There are many other browsers out there to choose from, such as Apple Safari, Opera and Lunascape. If you look at websites, you use a browser. My personal favorite is Mozilla Firefox. "Mozilla" is the company; "Firefox" is the product.
I recommend people use Firefox because it is, if properly configured, the safest consumer-grade browser to use. Yes, I know there are "studies" showing other browsers to be the safest, but I am not convinced of the thoroughness or objectivity of those studies. Companies like Google and Microsoft will always hype their products as being the best, but, when it comes to down-in-the-trenches computer guys like me, guys who deal with Internet security and messed up computers day in and day out, there is one product that you will almost always find installed on our computers: Firefox.
Before I get into the details of using Firefox, please allow me to clear the air about something.
Foxfire was the title of a series of books about mountain living and folklore, published in the 1970s. Foxfire was also the name of a cheesy teen angst movie made in 1996.
In addition to being a 1982 action movie starring Clint Eastwood, Firefox is the name of the world's best web browser. Why people want to call it Foxfire is beyond me. Just remember: Firefox, Firefox, Firefox, not "Foxfire." Thank you.
Download Firefox at mozilla.com. Double-click your downloaded file and Firefox will install. What follows are my personal useability and safety/security settings. Make only the changes listed; leave everything else the same.
On the first installation window, allow Firefox to be the "Default" browser. Click to show the other browser options, and pick Firefox. Ignore any "warnings" that appear.
Next, right-click in a blank space in the top empty toolbar area, and select "Menu Bar." From the menu bar, go to Tools/Options. In the "General" section, scroll down until you see "Firefox Updates." Uncheck "automatically update search engines." Scroll to the bottom and click Network Settings. Select "No proxy," and then OK.
On the left side, choose Home. All browsers allow you to pick what is called a "Home Page." This is nothing more than what will be the first website you see when you start Firefox. Next to Homepage and new windows, change Firefox home to Custom URLs. In the box that says Paste a URL, type the website address of whatever you want to be your Home Page. It can be any website you want, it's a personal choice. Under New Tabs, change Firefox Home to Blank Page.
Back to the left side of the screen; choose Search. Select "Add search bar in toolbar." Change the default search engine to anything other than Bing, Amazon, eBay, Twitter or Wikipedia. Uncheck all "Search suggestions" options. Highlight and remove all of the search engines shown under "One-click search engines" except for the one you picked.
Next, on the left side, select Privacy & Security. Select "Delete cookies and site data when Firefox is closed." Uncheck Ask to save logins. Uncheck Autofill addresses. Change "Firefox will remember history" to Use custom settings. Check "Remember browsing" and "Clear history" only.
To the right of Clear history, click "Settings." Check everything in the window that appears, and click OK. Scroll down and uncheck everything under "Address Bar." Uncheck everything under Firefox Data Collection. Close Firefox, and you are done.
While there are other Firefox tweaks and addons for more hard-core security buffs, the settings listed above provide excellent security for most users.
Dave Moore has been fixing computers in Oklahoma since 1984. As founder of the Internet Safety Group, he also teaches Internet safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.internetsafetygroup.com.