Seattle-based Speakeasy said yesterday it will begin offering its customers a specialized version of Mozilla Firefox, an upstart Web browser...

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Seattle-based Speakeasy said yesterday it will begin offering its customers a specialized version of Mozilla Firefox, an upstart Web browser and growing challenger to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

In doing so, Speakeasy said it becomes the first broadband Web-access provider to offer an official customized version of Firefox. Starting this month, the program will be available as a free download on its Web site. The software will be included in installation kits sent to Speakeasy’s new residential customers.

The company will send current customers an e-mail and link to the Firefox download from its portal page, where users can go to access e-mail and pay bills.

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The deal adds some legitimacy to a browser that has yet to make inroads with mainstream computer users, although it has an enthusiastic base of core fans. But Firefox is chipping away at the dominance of Internet Explorer, claiming about 5 percent of the market.

Adoption of Firefox has been growing, in part, because it’s easy to use and because its small market share makes it less of a target for spyware and computer viruses, problems that have widely afflicted Internet Explorer.

No money has changed hands in the partnership between Speakeasy and Firefox’s developer, the Mozilla Foundation, said Mike Apgar, Speakeasy’s chairman and founder. Firefox is an open-source program, and its code is freely available for use by anyone.

Apgar said he became interested in Firefox after trying it and seeing its potential. In the future, the browser could become the foundation for other Speakeasy offerings, such as the Internet-based telephone technology called voice over Internet Protocol, he said. A customer who receives a voice mail might one day receive a notification of the message over the browser, for example.

The company’s broadband Internet service is available in major metropolitan areas within the continental United States.

“Speakeasy’s always been one of the most progressive broadband providers in the country,” Apgar said. “It’s sort of in our DNA, I guess, to look for new and useful technologies and services that we can provide to our customers.”

Mozilla approached Speakeasy with the partnership proposal, and Apgar assigned one of his programmers the task of building a customized version of the browser. The product was finished in about 30 days.

The customized browser will maintain Firefox’s default home page, which is the home page for Google.com. It will have a Speakeasy logo and tool bar and come with a list of Web sites recommended by company employees.

It is the first time Speakeasy has developed a customized browser.

“We didn’t feel like in the past there was a compelling reason to tell our customers to use this browser or that browser,” Apgar said. But Firefox, he said, is “a fantastic product.”

A Mozilla Foundation spokesman said yesterday the deal is significant because it will expose Firefox to a new audience. Mozilla will continue to look at partnerships in the Internet-service-provider market, he added.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com