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  • The Browser Review: Firefox Matures

    September 17th, 2005

    Although recent reports indicate that Firefox’s growth on the Windows platform may have stalled, that hasn’t stopped the Mozilla Organization from pushing out new versions. Yes, Firefox 1.5 beta 1 is somewhat late. At this point in time, we expected the final version, if the original promises were to be taken seriously, but it’s nonetheless an auspicious beginning for a fairly major update.

    Although it looks pretty much the same on the surface, there are a number of notable under-the-hood changes. There’s an automated update feature that smoothes the progress of upgrading to the newest version of the application and its extensions. It may not be so big a deal for Mac users with a broadband connection, since installation is a simple matter of drag and drop. But if you have dial-up, or use the Windows version of Firefox, it’s a feature you’ll appreciate.

    There are slight improvements in performance and compatibility with Web standards, and you’ll welcome the addition of a Report Broken Web Site feature, similar to the one in Safari, so you can alert the Mozilla developers if one of your favorite online watering holes doesn’t look right. Another feature that’s cribbed from Safari is Clear Private Data, which does what the name implies. So much for expanding the frontiers of browsing, but these new capabilities are welcome nonetheless, even if not wholly original.

    Popup blocking is said to be enhanced, and you can reorder browser tabs via drag and drop. In response to complaints that Firefox, because of its cross platform origins, isn’t totally Mac like, there’s supposed to be improved support for Mac OS X. The major change appears to be preference panels that are more Mac like, and initial launch performance seems a tad better, but there appears to be work left to do in this area.

    Since it is beta 1, I’m not expecting miracles. Firefox 1.5 seems stable enough, and I did notice some speedups in browser rendering speed when moving back and forward through sites. During the course of testing a number of sites, I ran across one, Consumer Guide magazine, where rendering issues were identical to those in Safari, with overlapping text in article captions. I reported the “broken” site and noticed that the version of Firefox I used was reported as version 1.4. Oh well.

    Although recent reports indicate that Firefox’s growth on the Windows platform may have stalled, that hasn’t stopped the Mozilla Organization from pushing out new versions. Yes, Firefox 1.5 beta 1 is somewhat late. At this point in time, we expected the final version, if the original promises were to be taken seriously, but it’s nonetheless an auspicious beginning for a fairly major update.

    There’s a lot to be said about using the same browser on multiple platforms, since you don’t have to alter your work habits. I’m on the fence, though, about whether Firefox is really any better than Safari. I don’t see much of a performance difference between the two, although that depends on which sites you use for comparisons. A couple of seconds one way or the other may be important for bragging rights, but not to me. I don’t sit in front of my Mac with stopwatch in hand.

    In some ways, in fact, I prefer Safari, although it is somewhat more enthusiastic about caching older versions of a site. Take its History menu, for example, where a simple submenu provides immediate access to the sites you visited earlier today and the previous day. In contrast, Firefox requires that you invoke a sidebar to get to the sites beyond the previous ten, and I don’t regard that as especially convenient.

    I also wonder why Firefox doesn’t display browser icons in its Bookmarks menu, since it can manage the function in the address bar, but I suppose that’s a minor quibble in the scheme of things.

    In any case, a second beta is expected in a few weeks, and the final version should be out before the end of the year. Maybe there will be a few more changes to address my minor concerns. But even if it’s just more of the same with improved performance, I won’t be disappointed. Firefox remains the sole compelling competitor to Internet Explorer on the Windows platform and Mac users should appreciate the somewhat improved support for Mac OS X.

    Now what about Mozilla’s Mac-only browser, Camino, which exists in an almost eternal beta form? Isn’t it about time we see a true version 1.0 release? Just asking.



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