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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I've reported in past about issues with Firefox 1.x  memory usage and stability problems. Most people report that these problems have not grown worse in Firefox 2.0, and some people say they might be a little bit better. One reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, summed it up this way:

So far, Firefox 2 seems better than the 1.5 versions, though the memory usage issue hasn't really improved much, except for when it comes time for it to close. Now it releases all the [memory] it was using upon shutdown.

Another wrote:

Copy and paste in Yahoo Web mail is fixed. That used to anger me when I'd try to copy a URL and send it to a friend. Firefox 2.0 seems a lot more stable too. No more crashes when too many tabs are open. —Gregory Theodosis

While some people feel IE7 is faster than Firefox 2.0 at either loading Web pages or loading itself, many readers commented to us in e-mail that Firefox 2.0 is either slightly or significantly faster than Firefox 1.5:

Firefox 2.0 may be a tad faster to you, but it is orders of magnitude faster for us than v1.5. —Phil Davis, Atlanta

Finally, from Mozilla's Firefox 2.0 Release Notes, here are two things you should be aware of:

When you're printing Web pages with text areas, if the text area contains a misspelled word and inline spell checking is enabled, all the content in the text area following the typo will not be printed. The work-around is to right-click the affected text area and uncheck "Spell check this field" to turn off spell checking temporarily.

According to the release notes, the "Shrink to fit" image option was disabled in Firefox 2. However, when we checked our several Firefox 2.0 installations, including ones that created clean new profiles, we found that the about:config setting for this feature was set to "true," which should enable image resizing:

      browser.enable_automatic_image_resizing

The two available settings are true (turn on automatic image resizing) and false (turn off automatic resizing).

Takeaways

As a confirmed Firefox user since the day Firefox 1.0 debuted, it pleases me that Microsoft took notice and outfitted Internet Explorer with variations on most of the best Firefox features. Now the two Web browsers with the largest market share are comparable in terms of features. Computerworld reader J.T. Pedersen may have said it best:

Viewing Firefox 2 and IE7 as roughly equal, the decision is about personal preference. The greatest strength behind Firefox is that it isn’t integrated in any way with the operating system. If it crashes, which is rare, Windows doesn't stall or go into slow motion. I really think we have the folks at Mozilla to thank for the improvements in IE7. Until MS had serious competition, there was no reason for browsers to move forward again. —J.T. Pedersen

It's true that Firefox 2.0 was a less ambitious upgrade than Internet Explorer 7, but after more than a week using both products, two things are plain:

1. Microsoft, which hadn't released a new browser in five years (and hadn't significantly upgraded Internet Explorer since Version 4.0 was released in 1997), is fully back in the race with IE7.

2. Firefox 2.0 is the better browser by a length, and the one this Web professional will continue to use.

We'll see what happens when Firefox 3.0 (code-named Minefield) and Internet Explorer 8.0 (if that's what it will be called) emerge. That's when this should become a much more difficult race to call.

Editor's Note: Don't miss our accompanying Visual Tour of Firefox 2.0.

Related Articles and Blogs:

  •  IT Blogwatch: IE7: bad, Firefox 2.0: good? (and ultimate Coke+Mentos)

  •  Martin McKeay: Firefox and irresponsible disclosure

  •  Douglas Schweitzer: With increased use, Firefox needs to fix faults fast!

  •  Jeremy Kirk: Mozilla team downplays first Firefox 2.0 bug reports

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

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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