Firefox 2.0: So-so upgrade for a great little browser

New version has its merits and its downsides, says Scott Finnie

I can sum up my Firefox 2.0 experience pretty neatly: I like it better than Firefox 1.5, but it’s not a major release of the browser. In fact, it’s stretching it to call this Firefox 2.0. Something like version 1.8 would be more realistic.

About 80% of the extensions I use are supported, and I’m sure the others will come relatively quickly. With the new features added in this version, of course, some extensions have become unnecessary. In my Firefox setup, Firefox 2.0 obviated the need for five extensions and another two customisations that I apply to all Firefox 1.x installations. To my way of thinking, that’s a very good thing.

Finally, Firefox 2 seems a tad faster to me than the 1.x versions of Firefox. And that’s it — those are the true high points.

Other nice-to-haves in the new Mozilla browser include the ability to preview RSS feeds and a facility for subscribing to feeds that works with most feed-readers. Firefox 2 offers on-the-fly inline spell checking for web forms, blogs and discussion posts. It also offers built-in ID theft and phishing protection.

There’s even a feature for resuming a previous browser session, called Session Restore, and you can re-open an accidentally closed tab. Although there are other new features and functions, these are the ones that matter to most people.

One new feature, Live Titles, is a little puzzling at first. (Do you think there’s a reason why both Mozilla and Microsoft are using the “live” moniker?) Live Titles are content descriptions added to text labels in your bookmarks. Websites must be specifically enabled for this feature for Firefox 2.0, so it’s not that useful yet (Mozilla offers these sites as Live Titles examples: http://people.mozilla.com/~myk/

microsummaries/sites/). The advantage of this feature is that webmasters can change the Live Title information as content changes on their pages, and the text will automatically change in your bookmark, giving you a textual indication of what’s new. It’s a good basic idea that doesn’t currently offer a lot of advantage yet.

The rest of what’s new is a little underwhelming. For example, while Mozilla is touting a revamped tabs interface, it doesn’t seem much improved to me. The revised Add-Ons Manager, which houses extensions and themes, is only mildly improved.

The enhanced search capabilities include a bigger integrated search box and a new search-engine manager. The visual refresh offers button sculpting and shading. But it’s all pretty minor.

Bottom line: If you liked Firefox 1.x there’s little about this that’s changed. Your biggest problem, if you’re downloading Firefox 2.0 right away, is very likely the question of whether your extensions are supported. If you use a lot of extensions, almost certainly not all will be supported — but as mentioned, Firefox 2 might eliminate the need for some of the extensions you previously used.

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