The open-source browser easily beat out the second-place finisher, Red Hat Inc.'s Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0, by garnering more than twice the votes. The Zimbra Collaboration Suite from Zimbra Inc. came in a distant third, with Asterisk 1.2 coming in fourth.
Firefox had a lot of industry buzz surrounding it early in 2005, according to Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst for JupiterResearch. That buzz was starting to fade, though, until Version 1.5 hit the market in the later part of the year.
''The release came just in time as some of the energy was dying around Firefox,'' says Wilcox. ''Firefox has built up a tremendous community. There's a lot of participation that goes on around the browser. It's an open-source product so there's contributions coming in from almost anywhere.''
And that community is part of what users love about Firefox, according to Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering at Mozilla Corp., based in Mountain View, Calif.
''It's one of the most amazing things about Firefox,'' says Schroepfer, who adds that they have 40 million to 50 million active Firefox users, with 50 percent to 60 percent of them using Version 1.5. ''There's all different sorts of people participating in the community. There are people who help to test. Anyone can look at product plans and all the code and review it and participate. If there's a feature they'd like to see implemented, they can show us a way to do it. By incorporating that into the product, they're really part of it.''
Jonathan Barksdale, a virtual IT specialist with the Jenaly Technology Group, Inc., a Portsmouth, N.H.-based outsourced IT firm, says there are features specific to Firefox that make it a better browser than some of its competitors, like Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which dominates the market.
''There are still reason to have Internet Explorer, but when I'm browsing and reading, I use Firefox,'' says Barksdale, who uses Firefox for his personal use and for work. ''Well, the benefits I get are the tabbed browsing, and it seems pretty bullet proof to catching the nasty stuff that people put up on malicious websites. I've got my brother, mother and father all on Firefox. I went from cleaning out their PCs hard core once or twice a month to not having any real problems for me to deal with.''
Barksdale says he still needs to use Internet Explorer when he's running certain applications that use Microsoft's .Net framework, which makes them incompatible with other browsers. For example, there are database applications that you interface with through the browser, and he couldn't use Firefox with them.
''If the primary purpose is for browsing the Web and information retrieval off the Web, then absolutely, I'd recommend Firefox,'' he adds.
One of Barksdale's favorite features on Firefox is its tabbed browsing, which opens multiple web pages in a single browser window. It also is designed to enable users to quickly flip back and forth, and drag and drop open tabs to keep related pages together. Firefox 1.5 also boasts improved pop-up blocking, integrated search and better security.
''It's pretty good,'' says Wilcox. ''If we're talking about capabilities, there's not much comparison. Firefox has the tab browsing and other enhancements that improve the experience... IE6 is an old browser in Internet time. If Internet years are like dog years, then IE6 is well into its middle age. Version 7 is available now in a beta preview. It's looking good and I do expect it to give Firefox a hard run here.''
Wilcox adds that IE7 is expected to ship sometime this year, but the folks at the Mozilla Foundation aren't sitting around just waiting to see what the release will do to the market. Schroepfer says Firefox V2.0 also is expected to be released later this year, going into beta in the middle of the year.
Schroepfer says they're making some changes to the user interface, tweaking how tab browsing, searches and book marks work. ''We're trying to make it easier for people to organize and search information,'' he says. ''Someone might think about a page they saw five days ago and now they want to get back to it. We want to make that easier.''