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Firefox 2.0 Reviewed: I Think

I try to maintain a positive outlook on my work, and do my best to make sure that I publish accurate information. When I review a new product, I want it to be the release version, even if that version has problems. Yes, I cover betas sometimes, clearly labeled as such, with appropriate warnings.

In this case, I’m not quite sure. You see, Firefox 2.0 was supposed to be released on a Tuesday, yet it has been widely reported that Mozilla’s servers already had the release version posted as of Monday. Making matters all the more confusing, the available Mac version appears to be identical to the RC3 version posted only a week ago.

That being said, it’s certainly possible that RC3 was stable enough to deserve official release status, and that doesn’t seem to be out of line based on my experience, so here we go. Should a later version appear in final release form, I’ll amend these comments if necessary.

At first glance, you probably won’t notice a tremendous difference between version 2.0 and 1.5. Unlike Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, which sports a new interface that ignores some of the graphical user interface conventions in its standard motif, you will not have to fathom an entirely new interface with the latest Firefox.

Changes are largely subtle. So when you mouse over a toolbar icon, for example, it’ll appear to glow. Such interface enhancements make Firefox seem more Mac-like, even though it is designed to look and work pretty much the same across the Mac, Windows and Unix platforms.

In the scheme of things, perhaps the most important enhancement is phishing protection, a feature that’s also included in Microsoft’s browser update, by the way. You can set phishing to use a downloaded list of suspicious sites, or access the one available from Google. Time will tell how robust this feature will end up being, but it’s interesting that it arrives at a time when Symantec is touting its new Norton Confidential application, which makes phishing protection a major feature.

For people like me, the built-in spell checker is one of the more significant improvements. It allows me to use Firefox to access our WordPress Web publishing tool with all features intact, including the formatting toolbar; the latter feature doesn’t function in Safari.

A Session Restore feature functions as a preference setting, or as an option in the event you install an application or plugin, or Firefox crashes. Users of Opera are accustomed to this feature, and if you open lots and lots of windows or tabs during a browsing session, it’s something you’ll simply treasure.

There are lots of other enhancements worth exploring, such as improved handling of tabs, search requests, RSS feeds and so forth. I’ll leave it to you to check out each, in turn, and see what appeals to you.

My sole criticism remains unchanged in this “release” version, and that’s printing. While it works all right for some sites, others do not print at all, or just deposit blank or partially printed pages in my printer’s output tray. This forces me to return to Safari from time to time to handle those chores, but otherwise, Firefox functions as my default browser. I gather Firefox 3 will address this shortcoming, which is apparently worse on the Mac platform.

I expect that some Windows advocates who strive to jump on every nuance in this commentary that seems to attack Internet Explorer 7. Some will tout the advantages of Microsoft’s browser update, but that’s largely a catch-up release. I’ve played with it for a while under Windows XP and the prerelease versions of Windows Vista, and, aside from the unnecessary interface changes, it seems to work pretty well most of the time. But it also crashes far more often than Firefox 2, which has been remarkably stable on both the Mac OS and Windows.

It’s no wonder that more and more computer users are embracing Firefox. But I’m never satisfied for long, and now it’s time to start thinking about version 3.