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The rise of Netscape’s Firebird browser

Jun 23, 20033 mins
BrowsersEnterprise Applications

* Netscape's Firebird browser features built-in pop-up blocking

In case you don’t know the history of Netscape’s layout engine called “Gecko” it arose from Netscape’s need to compete with Internet Explorer’s DHTML support, which was far more advanced than anything Netscape had to offer. Gecko, part of the Mozilla project, was Netscape venturing out on a limb by going open source.

From this work has emerged the Netscape Firebird browser. I just downloaded the latest release, Version 0.6, and you have got to check this browser out. It runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X; it is fast, easy to install (totally painless in comparison to IE – just unzip and run, that’s it!), highly customizable and will load most pages that were designed for IE (although it currently sometimes chokes on IE-specific JavaScript).

Firebird has some really nice features. One of my favorites is tabbed browser windows. Firebird allows you to open multiple Web pages as tabbed panes in the same window by holding the control key while clicking on a link (the more common opening in a new window is also supported by a click without control being pressed) or by dragging a link from a document to the tab bar.

In many situations the tabbed interface is much more useful than the mess of scores of open browser windows that you tend to wind up with under IE. If you haven’t experienced a tabbed browser interface, you need to try this out – it is remarkably slick to use.

Firebird also has built-in pop up blocking – a browser first as far as I am aware. Note that you can enable pop-ups for specific sites.

The other big feature is that more or less everything about the organizations of the Firebird interface is customizable. This is “skinning” using external specification files called “chrome,” which not only allow for different look and feel but also “extensions” – small programs (or plug-ins) that add new functionality. For example, Mouse Gestures allow you to go back, forward, and open a new window just by making a gesture with your mouse and Web Developer, which adds a menu and a toolbar to the browser with various web developer tools.

All the cool stuff not withstanding, this browser is Version 0.6 and so it has some problems, for example, the Macromedia Flash plug-in, as of writing, can cause major problems on installation.

On the other hand, should the bugs get fixed in a timely manner this browser could be a serious contender in the browser world.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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