The Daily Express on Firefox. Ish.

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 19 January 2005

The Guardian recently turned over their media section to a series of essays by non-journalists about how they perceived journalism as a trade. More than one person made the point that one of the real problems with the media is that the majority of articles you read about something you know about contain a significant amount of inaccuracy and misunderstanding, which then undermines your confidence in the accuracy of everything else you read.

There was a classic example of that this week in an article in Monday's Daily Express about Firefox by David Leigh. I knew we were on to a winner when I spotted the headine:

He's called 'the next Bill Gates' and may soon be as wealthy, thanks to his Internet browser which 15 million have downloaded in a few weeks. And he's only 19.

The two-page spread was mostly a puff-piece on Blake Ross rather than Firefox itself, and included such breath-taking insights as:

But he is no typical computer geek: he does not wear glasses, loves swimming and working out, dresses in jeans and trainers, and has a Monty Python-esque sense of humour.

I don't think Mr Leigh has been hanging out with the right calibre of computer geek if he thinks that jeans, trainers and Monty Python don't figure in the life of the "typical computer geek". Mind you, it is always pleasing to see the mainstream press in the UK still thinking that whether you have perfect vision or not is a determining factor in your future career. Where on earth did we find librarians and scientists before spectacles were invented so we could identify them from a distance by their face-furniture?

Buried at the end of the article is a reference to the concept of open source and the Mozilla foundation - plus the small fact that "Blake, like the other Firefox volunteers, does not profit from the browser's popularity" - a fact that is somewhat at odds with the article's headline assertion that he may soon be "as wealthy" as Bill Gates.

Still, as much as I want to gripe about the way the story of the growth of Firefox is represented as the achievement of one 19 year old, I have to admit to a grudging appreciation that the Express was even covering a story like this - and the opening of the article praised the browser's development in glowing, if sweepingly generalist, terms:

Aged just 19, Blake is the co-creator of an ultra-fast new Internet browser described by technology experts "Microsoft's worst nightmare"

Since Firefox was launched just two months ago, it has been downloaded by an incredible 15 million users worldwide, making it the world's second most used browser in a matter of weeks. Although it is still a long way behind Microsoft's pre-eminent Internet Explorer (with 700 million users), Firefox is currently being downloaded 300,000 times every day.

Experts, who describe the figures as astonishing, say Blake's baby is faster and less prone to viruses than Explorer and is better at countering that modern day scourge, pop-up adverts.

And in a week when a survey revealed that Britons are falling out of love with the Internet for precisely those reasons, Blake's creation is looking an even more likely winner.

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