Like most internet phenomena, it was underground at first, then little by little it became better known, and now for a large portion of users, life without it would be strange. Diehards may have stuck with previous incumbent rival Netscape even after it was sold to AOL, but work continued on the browser technology behind it, known as Gecko. Having reached version 1.0 only recently in November 2004, there have been 25 million downloads of the most stable Firefox browser to date. Its popularity has only been helped by a no-nonsense IE favourite importation function, which doesn't bury your bookmarks amongst its own like Opera 7x.

However developer Mozilla also has every single malevolent Microsoft virus and hack attack from 2004 to thank for the increase in popularity, not to mention courting Linux and Mac users since the beginning (Mac users can currently sample the Gecko engine behind Firefox- and Netscape before it - with the current Camino browser). With help from a voluntary group of fans and promoters, some of whom have taken out newspaper advertising in the same way that Microsoft was forced to do when its Browser and OS was under major attack one year ago. The difference was, Firefox's advertising was an invitation to try and contribute feedback on the fledgeling rival.

The browser, which has taken almost a tenth of the market, is also attracting other attention. Firstly Google headhunted two of the browser's developers, giving rise to speculation about their own entry into the arena. Secondly hackers and script kiddies, maybe a little bored with baiting Microsoft (or waiting to attack IE 7 on arrival) have turned their attention to Firefox in the meantime. The current v1.7.5 for Windows is vulnerable to phishing scams which may be able to intercept sensitive codes if you're not in the habit of regularly cleaning your browser's cache and being careful about which links you click. This has led some people not to migrate all their services from IE.

However you browse the web, the user is certainly the winner. There's Opera if you don't wish to use either IE or Firefox, and if Google enters the market, that will equal a quartet of major heavyweights to choose from, rather than slavishly depending on Internet Explorer. It's said that this milestone is another reason for the new version update after four years, but if the most perfect solution would be four highly maintained, secure browsers competing for our attention.

On a more cynical note, some may say that since all the browsers are capable of crashing with equal regularity, so you need an alternative when your current choice falls over.