Now, I know that I have been accused in the past of being very anti-Microsoft, specifically anti-Internet Explorer, and indeed, some of the criticism I level at the product may be misplaced.
For a long time, PC users were literally forced to use Internet Explorer to browse the internet. Yes, there were alternatives, but none of them ever caught on, because frankly, none of them were as good. Therefore, users of Internet Explorer were prepared to put up with the occasional problems that presented themselves, mostly because, in those days, there were still very few groups who took advantage of the flaws in the program.
However, time moved on, yet the browser didn't. And suddenly, it became a minefield. Internet Explorer came with quite literally no protection against malicious pop-ups, illegitimate programs and scripts, and you had to become an expert in recognising such programs, otherwise you would find yourself with a virus-ridden computer that both took all of your personal details and also connecting to premium rate lines without you knowing (in the dial-up era).
Whilst Microsoft tried to keep the ailing software up to date with patches and updates, the core architecture of the program seemed to change very little, continually allowing the software to be exploited. Then, in November 2004, an alternative web browser was launched that immediately began to challenge Microsoft's near-total domination: Mozilla Firefox.
Still, the new browser was not without it's flaws, and it wasn't until October 2006, when Firefox 2.0 went live that the software really came into it's own. Since then, the software has continued to eat into Microsoft's lead, with an estimated 30% of web users now using Firefox.
One of the main advantages that Firefox had over Internet Explorer was its security features. Internet Explorer's security features were well hidden, and difficult to use. Firefox attempted to correct this, by turning on more options by default, and generally making the features easier to understand and use. Integrated pop-up blockers followed, along with RSS feeds and most recently, private browsing.
The other main reasons that Firefox took off was because of it's system of themes and add-ons, allowing users to heavily customise their browser, and for software developers to release add-ons to give the browser additional features, such as mass-downloaders and script blockers. Script and pop-up blockers were especially welcomed, with two versions being at the top of the most popular add-on lists for Firefox, and they certainly make browsing a lot safer and friendlier.
In recent times, Firefox itself has come under pressure, both from Google, with Google Chrome, and from Microsoft, with Internet Explorer 8 and 9. Microsoft's efforts however seem doomed to failure; even if their most recent browsers have been a huge step forward, they have come under a lot of criticism for introducing features that have existed for years in browsers such as Firefox and Chrome. And then, further blighting the effort of Microsoft to win back users, are the almost consistent announcements of bugs and exploits found in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Windows, the most recent of which was announced on Monday. Whilst the bug in question was a problem with Windows rather than Internet Explorer, it did not effect people running any other web browser.
There is one other thing, that is actually quite specific to web developers such as myself. When we design our websites, we are careful to ensure that they are, to the best of our abilities, W3C compliant (ie. they should display properly on all web browsers). Therefore, one of the things we make sure we do during development and design is to view the site using a wide range of browsers, and it is always Internet Explorer that causes us problems. It actually requires us to insert extra pieces of code to get the pages to display correctly, and sometimes even that is not enough.
So, am I biased? Yes. But you've got to admit, I do have excellent reasons.