Review: The enhancements in the latest release include improved privacy functionality, a rebuilt options configuration screen, multiple interface tweaks and a reworked automatic updating mechanism.
Calling Firefox 1.5 a major new release is probably overstating things a bit, but the latest version of the popular open-source Web browser does have some fairly significant new features and improvements.
Among the new features in Firefox 1.5, which was released by the Mozilla Foundation at the end of November, are improved privacy functionality, a rebuilt options configuration screen, multiple interface tweaks and a reworked automatic updating mechanism.
As always, the browser has excellent cross-platform support, working identically in eWEEK Labs tests on multiple operating systems, including Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. Standards support in this release is good, although not perfect. (No Web browser currently in heavy use is).
One of the most useful new features, especially for those who share a PC or for kiosk systems, is the Clear Private Data function. Accessible from the Tools menu or by hitting ctrl-shift-delete, this feature made it possible to delete all information from a browsing session, including histories, cookies, cached items, authentication information and saved forms. We could customize this feature from the Options panel, and we could set it to run whenever we closed Firefox.
User interface changes are, for the most part, small in this release. The Options panel has moved from a vertical interface to a more horizontal, tabbed interface. For the most part, however, the functions of the Options menu are the same as in the previous version.
In the main browser interface, one of only a few visual changes is the move of the RSS feed icon from the bottom status bar to the top address bar.
Function-wise, however, it is now easier to drag and drop interface elements from one place to another. We could organize tabbed windows in this way, and we could create a new tabbed window by dragging a link to the tabs bar. We could also reorganize bookmarks directly in the menu using drag and drop.
Perhaps the biggest new feature in Firefox 1.5 is the improved Automatic Update capability.
In previous versions of Firefox, Automatic Update was almost a misnomer, as the feature basically just informed users that there was a new update to the browser and instituted a full and essentially manual installation of the new version.
In Firefox 1.5, Automatic Update is designed to work more seamlessly, without requiring full new installs and supporting Firefox extensions. Automatic Update worked in our tests of Firefox 1.5 betas, but there have been no updates in the short time since Version 1.5 was released. After the first updates are released, well offer our take on the Automatic Update functionality in the eWEEK Labs blog at blog.eweek.com/blogs/eweek_labs/.
Users will also have to wait and see if the extensions they use will work with Firefox 1.5. The new browser changes the extension model, and developers of these Firefox add-ons have had to rebuild their extensions to work with it. During our testing, none of our favorite extensionsincluding FireFTP worked with Firefox 1.5. Users who rely on a particular extension may want to hold off on upgrading until the add-ons have been updated for 1.5.
Analysts are predicting an uphill fight for Mozilla with Firefox 1.5. Click here to read more.
While eWEEK Labs considers Firefox to be an excellent Web browser and much superior to the current versions of Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer, we have consistently lamented the fact that Firefox isnt more corporate-friendly: As the browser is currently designed, it is not well-suited for large corporate implementations.
We are keeping an eye on a current project to create a Client Customization Kit similar to the old Netscape model that would let companies create customized deployments of the Firefox browser. We would also like to see Firefox fully supporting Microsoft Installer technology, rather than just offering wrapper support. This would help companies deploy Firefox using Windows Group Policies and Active Directory, a must for large corporate installations.
Other new features in Firefox 1.5 include a wizard to report Web sites that dont work with Firefox and improved accessibility capabilities.
eWEEK Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.
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