2006-11-01

Review: FireFox 2.0

After the Great Chronos Crash of '06, I was forced to reinstall, well, everything. That's mostly a bad thing, but it did encourage me to upgrade everything I use to the latest and greatest, including Mozilla's FireFox browser (my browser of choice.) So, behold the silver lining to my grey cloud: my review of FireFox 2.0.

Interface
The first thing anyone notices about a new version of a program is , of course, the interface. FireFox 2.0 sports a somewhat updated interface, particularly in the toolbar and tab bar.

The new toolbar I'm really not happy with. I like the search suggestions that have been added to the search box; other than that, I hate what they've done with the toolbar. The addition of a Go button is fine for computer novices - which I am not, yet there is no option to remove the button to free up screen real estate. Likewise, there is an equivalent Search button added to the search box - again, fine for users who don't know about hitting enter, but I want an option to remove the thing, because I don't need, use, or want it. The updated icons are ugly, particularly the home icon. Using FireFox 1.5 I left the default skin in place; now I've switched to one of the freely-available custom skins (GrayModern2, if you're wondering). I'm sorry, brown is just a really unappealing colour for a toolbar button.

The new tab bar I do like; it integrates many of the features that I previously had to add myself using extensions, like the close box now available on every tab, and the use of fixed-width tabs. I would have liked to see a close box remain fixed at one side of the tab bar; I often find myself closing a series of tabs one after the other, so the ability to just click several times in one spot to close several tabs in a row is a big plus. It's now more obvious which tab is the active tab, which is nice. They've also added a tab menu button to the far-right side of the tab bar, which gives you a list of the currently open tabs; this feature is almost useful, but deeply hampered by the fact that you can't right-click items in this menu to get the context menu you'd get by right-clicking the tab (e.g., close tab, close other tabs, etc.). They have added Undo Close Tab to the context menu, thank god - a feature I use regularly, being one who often makes mistakes.

The preferences have been updated slightly; I noticed that they removed the option to change your screen resolution in DPI - a mixed bag, since it didn't work before, but such a feature would be extremely handy if it worked, since I run at high resolution with DPI turned up for improved readability.

The extensions and theme managers have been integrated into a single "add-ons" manager - not a big deal, but a positive change nonetheless.

New Features
The new version isn't particularly big on new features, but there are a few. The new search bar has support for search suggestions, such as those available on Google, which, I have to say, I didn't really like at first. However, after leaving it on for a couple of days, it's really started to grow on me as a handy time-saver. Plus, your search history shows up ahead of the suggestions, leaving that feature unencumbered by the new addition.

It also features a long-time wish of mine, inline spell check. That means you have a spell checker like that of a word processor when you're using web form fields (such as the one I'm entering this post into.) Not much to explain, but incredibly handy. It underlines misspelled words as you type, and you can right-click to auto-correct, add to dictionary, etc.

There's a new feed reader as well, but I'm not a big RSS user. I may just have to give RSS another try with the newer clients available (including FireFox's built-in options) and post a followup here.

Overall
They say it's more stable and performs better, but it's really hard to say, as it's always been really stable and performed really well. I will say that this version seems to be bogged down less by having multiple extensions installed than 1.5 did, but that may also be partly due to the fact that all the plugin developers had to release new versions for compatibility with 2.0, so they may have released some improvements of their own along with the update.

All in all, I'd say it's certainly worth the upgrade (especially being free), but nothing ground-breaking here. I'm looking forward to FireFox 3.0 which seems to have passed the Acid2 test in development builds. Finally!
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