Firefox 2.0 first impressions: So-so upgrade, great browser

While there's not a great deal new in Firefox 2.0, it's still the best browser around

Today Mozilla is officially releasng Firefox 2.0. Truth be told, the final code is no different from last week's Release Candidate 3 code, so I've had time to play with it. I'll give my initial impressions here, but I'd also like to hear what you think.

I can sum up my Firefox 2.0 experiences pretty neatly: I like it better than Firefox 1.5, but it's not a major release of the browser. In fact, it's stretching it to call this Firefox 2.0. Something like version 1.8 would be more realistic.

About 80% of the extensions I use are supported, and I'm sure the others will come relatively quickly. With the new features added in this version, of course, some extensions have become unnecessary: In my Firefox setup, Firefox 2.0 obviated the need for five extensions and another two customizations that I apply to all Firefox 1.x installations. To my way of thinking, that's a very good thing.

Finally, Firefox 2 seems a tad faster to me than the 1.x versions of Firefox. And that's it -- those are the true high points.

Other nice-to-haves in the new Mozilla browser include the ability to preview RSS feeds and a facility for subscribing to feeds that works with most feed readers. Firefox 2 offers on-the-fly inline spell checking for Web forms, blogs, and discussion posts. It offers built-in ID theft phishing protection. There's even a feature for resuming a previous browser session, called Session Restore, and you can reopen an accidentally closed tab. Although there are other new features and functions, these are the ones that matter to most people.

Firefox 2.0's overall look and feel is updated with new toolbar buttons and revised tabs
Firefox 2.0's overall look and feel is updated with new toolbar buttons and revised tabs

(Click image to see larger view)

One new feature, Live Titles, is a little puzzling at first. (Do you think there's a reason why both Mozilla and Microsoft are using the "live" moniker?) Live Titles are content descriptions added to text labels in your bookmarks. Web sites must be specifically enabled for this feature for Firefox 2.0, so it's not widely useful yet. (Mozilla offers these sites as Live Titles examples.) The advantage of this feature is that Webmasters can change the Live Title information as content changes on their pages, and the text automatically will change in your bookmark, giving you a textual indication of what's new. It's a good basic idea that doesn't currently offer a lot of advantage yet.

The rest of what's new is a little underwhelming. For example, while Mozilla is touting a revamped tabs interface, it doesn't seem much improved to me. The revised Add-Ons Manager, which houses extensions and themes, is only mildly improved. The enhanced search capabilities include a bigger integrated search box and a new search-engine manager. The visual refresh offers button sculpting and shading. But it's all pretty minor, to be honest. Check the Firefox 2.0 Release Notes for more detail.

Bottom line: If you liked Firefox 1.x, there's little about this that's changed. Your biggest problem, if you're downloading Firefox 2.0 right away, is very likely the question of whether your extensions are supported. If you use a lot of extensions, almost certainly not all will be supported -- but as I mentioned before, Firefox 2 might eliminate the need for some of the extensions you previously used.

Tell us your experience

So that's one man's first impressions of Firefox 2.0. But what about your experience? While Computerworld editor Val Potter and I create a Firefox 2.0 final review and visual tour, please tell us your experiences with the new browser, for possible inclusion in our upcoming story. Here are some questions to help you consider the new Mozilla browser:

  • Does Firefox 2 fix your Firefox memory footprint problems?
  • Have you noticed any performance improvement loading Web pages or launching the browser from other applications -- say, a link in an e-mail message?
  • Are you having any issues with Web applications or Web sites?
  • Are your favorite extensions supported?
  • Do you like the changes to the tabbed browsing features?
  • Do you like the RSS/XML improvements?
  • What's your favorite new Firefox 2.0 feature?
  • What change in Firefox 2.0 do you dislike?
  • Do you think IE7 is better? And if so, why?
  • What do you think about the Live Titles feature if you've tried it?

Let us know what you think by dropping me an e-mail. If your comments are insightful, watch for them to appear in Computerworld's full-fledged Firefox 2.0 coverage.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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