Firefox 2.0: Not Radical, but Just Right

Mozilla's return volley isn't as strong as Microsoft's serve, but does it need to be?

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RSS feed improvements

I prefer Firefox's RSS and XML feed support and subscription tools to those of Internet Explorer 7's. On the other hand, if you want to use your browser as a feed reader, IE7's solution is much better.

It boils down to this for me. The best RSS improvement in both browsers is being able to display RSS and XML feeds in human-readable form. That means you can see what a feed is delivering at the moment to help you determine whether you want to subscribe to it. What's more, it completes what had been a user-experience broken circle by letting inexperienced users click the feed, see what it is and then subscribe to it.

Firefox lets you set the default feed reader or Web-based service for subscribing to RSS feeds
 

Firefox lets you set the default feed reader or Web-based service for subscribing to RSS feeds (Click to see larger view)

The two browsers are equally good at interpreting a feed in a way that average computer users can understand. Firefox 2.0's advantage is that it makes it easy to subscribe to feeds in your choice of virtually any stand-alone RSS-reader application, such as FeedDemon, or choose from a selection of three RSS services: BlogLines, My Yahoo and Google Reader. It would be better if Firefox also supported other RSS service sites, such as NewsGator, or at least gave you a way to configure them yourself. IE7, meanwhile, doesn't offer subscriptions to anything but its own feed reader.

Taking a page from the Feedview extension, Firefox 2 can interpret RSS and XML streams in human-readable form
 

Taking a page from the Feedview extension, Firefox 2 can interpret RSS and XML streams in human-readable form (Click to see larger view)

On the other hand, at least IE7 has a Feeds area of its sidebar panel that it defaults to. If you opt to subscribe to an RSS feed using Firefox's Live Bookmarks feature, you're left to your own devices as to where you store them in Bookmarks. People new to Live Bookmarks sometimes have a disconnect at this point. The notion of saving feeds as bookmarks is not as clear-cut as it may seem.

More important, IE7 is using its feed viewer to render subscribed feeds so that you see headlines, links and descriptions for each feed. Firefox's Live Bookmarks creates a separate bookmark for each story offered by the feed. That's very cumbersome, and not a useful way for people to work with RSS. In addition, with IE7 you can sort that long feed of entries by date, title, author and so on, plus you can filter by category. Whereas Live Bookmarks is a placeholder for something better, IE7's feed-reading tools attempt to be your main RSS reader -- and for many people, they'll be enough. (Not for your author, however, who prefers FeedDemon.)

If you're a confirmed RSS user who already uses an external program or service, you may find that you like Firefox better. If you're still dabbling with RSS feeds or use them only occasionally, IE7 has the right solution. It should be noted that RSS-reading Firefox extensions like Sage and others work similarly to IE7's feed reader.

The free Sage extension for Firefox provides a similar RSS-reading experience to IE7
 

The free Sage extension for Firefox provides a similar

RSS-reading experience to IE7 (Click to see larger view)
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