Week in review: Firefox's wildfire

Newest Mozilla browser sets a download record as Yahoo employees defect at a seemingly record pace. Also: The broadband hookup.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
5 min read
After months of waiting and minutes of technical hurdles, Mozilla finally released Firefox 3, its open-source browser challenger to Microsoft's Internet Explorer crown.

While faster performance and better memory handling are sigificant Firefox 3 improvements, the real star is its Smart Location Bar, better known as the "awesome bar," which lets users type real words rather than sometimes-abstruse URL addresses to call up Web sites.

Other features of Firefox include a prominent warning when a user tries to open a page that has been shown to host malware; offline data access, a feature that can make Web applications usable, even when the network is unavailable; a better full-page zoom feature that devotes maximum screen real estate to the browser; and a star button to quickly add bookmarks. Read the in-depth review by CNET's Robert Vamosi here.)

The foundation was aiming to set a 24-hour download record with Firefox's release, and, after site issues delayed the release for nearly an hour, Mozilla said more than 8 million copies of Firefox 3 were downloaded in its first 24 hours online.

It's likely, however, that the majority of those who downloaded Firefox 3 at this stage will just use it to replace Firefox 2, not a competitor such as Microsoft's still-dominant Internet Explorer or Apple's third-place Safari.

As the Web transforms from a static repository of content into a foundation for applications such as word processors and graphics editors, browsers are growing up from mere gateways into the tool that makes those applications possible. In this new era, it's Firefox--the heir to the Netscape legacy--that's going up against the victor of the last era, Internet Explorer.

Yahoo bleeding executives
A Delaware court denied a fast-track schedule to hold a trial on whether to invalidate Yahoo's controversial employee severance.

The shareholders had sought to have a trial on the severance plans, prior to Yahoo's annual shareholders meeting on August 1, at which time investor activist Carl Icahn is currently planning to run a dissident slate to unseat Yahoo's entire board. The pension funds were concerned that unless the severance plans were invalidated, a successful election by Icahn would set off the first of two triggers needed to activate the plans.

If Microsoft was holding out any hope of enlisting Icahn to its side of the table with a partial acquisition of the search pioneer's business, Icahn apparently isn't budging. Icahn, as quoted in a Reuters report, said he believed Yahoo's advertising partnership with Google "might have some merit."

Icahn, in the interview, declined to comment on whether he would continue with his proxy fight to unseat Yahoo's entire board with his own slate of dissident directors, or scale it back and seek only a minority representation on Yahoo's board.

Having failed to buy all of Yahoo, or even its search business, Microsoft is now looking to take an even more piecemeal approach: hire Yahoo's workers. The company took out an ad in the San Jose Mercury News touting the fact that it has search jobs available in Silicon Valley.

Think the Microhoo drama is starting to grate on Yahooers? It seems that top executives are voicing their angst with their feet.

Since we learned last week that Jeff Weiner, executive vice president of Yahoo's Network division and leader of many of the company's core products, plans to leave the company, there has been a steady stream of top executives jumping ship.

Weiner, who is joining venture capital firms Accel Partnerse and Greylock Partners as "executive in residence," was joined in the executive exodus early in the week by Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, the husband-and-wife co-founders of the photo-sharing site Flickr, which Yahoo acquired in 2005. Fake's last day with Yahoo was June 13, and Butterfield's will be July 12.

After this news had a couple of days to settle on the Yahoo campus in Mountain View, Calif., three more executives announced plans to leave the company: Qi Lu, executive vice president of engineering for search and advertising technology; Brad Garlinghouse, senior vice president of communications; and Vish Makhijani, senior vice president of search.

Other recent defections from Yahoo include Usama Fayyad, chief data officer, and Jeremy Zawodny, a top programmer and advocate of what's now become the Yahoo Open Strategy.

Making the broadband connection
Sprint Nextel plans to launch its first commercial WiMax service in Baltimore in September, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said during a speech at the Nxtcomm trade show in Las Vegas. Sprint will turn up WiMax service in two other cities, Chicago and Washington, before the end of the year, Hesse added. But he didn't give a specific time frame for these deployments.

The much-anticipated WiMax service has been delayed several times. Initially, the company had said it would launch the service in the first half of the year. More recently, it has been vague about when it would deploy the service. It's been testing the mobile WiMax service with download speeds of between 2 megabits per second and 4Mbps since the end of last year in Chicago and the Washington-Baltimore area.

Verizon Communications is also looking toward big cities as the next big opportunity for its Fios broadband and TV service. The company said it expects to get approval from the New York Public Service Commission to offer its Fios video service in New York as early as next month.

The company sees cities as a huge opportunity for the Fios service, which provides high-speed Internet service, telephony, and cable TV service over a super-fast fiber connection. Because most customers in big cities such as New York live in large apartment buildings, Verizon has had to adapt its installation process.

Verizon is also boosting speeds for Fios. As part of the upgrade, all Fios customers will now have access to download speeds of 50 megabits per second and uploads of 20Mbps for about $140 a month.

Meanwhile, a group of investors has agreed to take over Philadelphia's Wi-Fi network just as EarthLink was set to pull the plug on it. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the group plans to change the business model. Instead of charging $20 a month for network access, the group will offer free Wi-Fi based on advertisements.

EarthLink announced on June 10 that it was abandoning the project after being unable to find a buyer for the network, 80 percent of which is complete. It also claimed that after months of negotiations with the city and a nonprofit group interested in running the network, it was unable to close the deal.

Also of note
Hewlett-Packard announced a significant reorganization of its most profitable division, paring five groups down to three within the printing-and-imaging division. ..A Missouri woman accused of contributing to a teenager's suicide by creating a fake MySpace account to taunt the girl pleaded not guilty in federal court...The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is expected to support the $5 billion merger of Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio...Google is developing a suite of tools to help broadband users identify traffic discrimination by their Internet service providers.