Firefox has become quite a popular browser, quickly eclipsing its older brother Mozilla and gaining a 10 percent market share on the web. There is much anticipation for version 2.0, and the Mozilla organization has released a candidate for Beta 1 on their FTP site. Versions are available for Windows, Mac OS X (Universal Binary), and Linux.
The beta candidate is code named Bon Echo, after Bon Echo Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Mozilla is hoping that users find this release to be a “good echo” of what they have gotten used to. Firefox 2 hasn’t changed much, interface-wise, from the original. Existing users will be instantly familiar with the standard button bar, links bar, and the row of tabs. One minor change is the ability to scroll the tab bar horizontally when it gets too large. Tabs also have small “X” boxes attached, making them easier to close. Under the hood, however, there have been numerous bugfixes and improvements, in addition to some welcome new features.
One of the new features is a built-in antiphishing filter, which we reported on earlier. It automatically checks sites against a locally-stored blacklist of known phishers, although an option to “ask Google” to check is also available. The ability to use remote antiphishing sites other than Google is planned but not currently implemented (the dropdown selection list is grayed out).
Firefox 2.0 Beta Candidate 1. Click for larger version.
A very neat feature is an integrated spelling checker for web-based text input forms. This is a boon for anyone who posts on a lot of forums. There have been other add-ins that check spelling in browser forms, such as IESpell for Internet Explorer and GNU ASpell (which I currently use with Opera) but these require user intervention to start the spell check for each field. Firefox 2’s checker automatically highlights misspelled words with a dotted red line. While this is nothing new for OS X users, who have been able to use the system-wide spell checker in this manner with web browsers like Safari and Omniweb for some time now, it is a welcome addition for people browsing on other platforms.
As with earlier versions of Firefox, when you install the beta of 2.0 it checks to see if you have any browser extensions that are incompatible with the current release. There is an option to search for updates for any extensions that have been broken, but it was not able to update any of the extensions I had installed. Fortunately, Firefox has been integrating many useful extensions (like the ability to drag and drop tabs to new locations) along its development, so this is not as big of a problem as it might seem.
The browser seemed quite fast and stable, although I did not perform any benchmarking tests. I found one really obscure bug, where if the user clicks on a help link when a preferences dialog box is open, a new copy of Firefox will load without the user being able to switch back to the original either through Alt-Tab or the Windows task bar.
Is the new release really deserving of the 2.0 moniker? It’s hard to say, given the fact that it looks and feels very much like 1.x. Is it a better browser than 1.x? Definitely. The spell checking feature alone makes it a must-have upgrade. While personally I’m very happy with the new Opera 9, it’s good to see that there is such healthy competition in the browser market.