Five per cent - or slightly less. That is the number of consumers worldwide who use Firefox, the much-vaunted Web browser upstart. To some, that figure may sound like no cause for celebration. How can a browser developed by a community of open-source developers pose a threat to Microsoft's Internet Explorer? Firefox's position looks even shakier when you invert the prevailing media spin by turning the figures around and note that the Redmond Mauler has about 95 per cent of the browser market share. Some 'browser war'. To defeatists and those with long memories, resistance may seem useless. Think what happened to Netscape. When I started roaming the information highway a decade ago, Netscape appeared to be the default mode of digital transport. Back then, Netscape supposedly had a market share of more than 80 per cent along with a fatal flaw - its cost. In contrast, Internet Explorer was free. With typically Darwinian ruthlessness, Microsoft pressed home this advantage, mimicking each of its rivals' features until, by the fourth generation of each, Explorer was just as good. In 1998, Netscape announced that in future its green machine would be free and open-source. Perhaps as a result, Netscape promptly started putting on weight in the shape of sponsored tabs directing the user to dreary content such as internet radio. Explorer duly surged ahead of its 'bloatware' rival. Netscape degenerated into the alternative you enlisted if you fancied a change or felt a bit strange. Now, every other day, a developer claims the next version of Netscape is about to emerge and blow us away. Fat chance. Recently, I trashed my Netscape browser and have no regrets because, I confess, I have fallen for the charms of Firefox. I suggest that you join me and the 10 million others who have downloaded it because, despite originating from the same mob responsible for Netscape, Firefox rocks. Just as well because my love affair started badly. When I first installed version 0.9.3 on Mac OSX, I found that the Firefox icon kept jumping up and down, like an enraged cartoon character, in the 'dock' or toolbar. I could not quit Firefox. I could not force-quit and so tried firing up the program again with the result that a second frisky Firefox icon appeared in the dock, soon to be joined by a third when I haplessly repeated the procedure. After reinstalling, praying and waving a dead chicken, I finally persuaded Firefox to work. When you first run it, the thing that strikes you is how clean the interface looks. In Zen style, Firefox only supplies the basic buttons - back, forward, reload, stop, and home - along with an address bar, and Google search. That is how I like my software. I loathe it when a program comes festooned with features that make it as buggy as a hospital and a nightmare to launch. Firing up my old version of Netscape Communicator felt like waking a sleeping giant. Firefox, by contrast, comes to life in a flash. Another attraction it possesses is security, which sounds boring but translates as less spyware and thus less intrusion. By extension, that means less drain on your computer's processing power. Another spur to efficiency is the browser's reaction to pop-up ads. Hardly any sneak through. Sure, you can block them with Explorer as well but you need to download third-party software such as the Google toolbar. Firefox's tabbed browsing feature speeds things up, too. This feature lets you open several webpages at once inside a single window, then switch quickly among them by clicking on the relevant tabs. Microsoft has now promised to make this frill available in version 7.0 of Explorer. But will it be fast? Firefox lets you access pages as easily as flick through a book. The rub? One of the contender's few drawbacks is its inability to access many FTP (file transfer protocol) sites that let you upload and download big files at high speed. The lack of an autofill button grates slightly too. All the same, Firefox must rank as the better browser. The question is whether it can evolve enough to make inroads on its competitor's market share. The dream might just deliver. After all, look at how Apple Computer has bounced back, thanks to its outrageously popular iPod MP3 player and its 'big cat' operating system versions that ooze style and simplicity. Firefox's credibility was boosted recently when IBM announced it would offer the browser on its Web servers for use by its staff and provide in-house technical support for those that chose to adopt it. The upstart is beginning to show mainstream potential. Unless Microsoft raises its game and makes Explorer live up to its name's implications of forging ahead, I for one will not be going back. Come and join me.