The Mozilla Foundation has further streamlined Firefox while making the popular open-source Web browser easy for even novice users to pick up. At the same time, Firefox remains effective, innovative and poised to make continual market share gains over Microsofts Internet Explorer.
Firefox 2.0, which can be downloaded at www.mozilla.com, has the greatest out-of-the-box usability of any Web browser eWeek Labs has tested (and thats a lot of Web browsers). From improvements in tabbed window management to built-in spell checking to integrated search aids, new features in Firefox 2.0 make it very easy for any user to take full advantage of modern Web browser capabilities.
However, while the Mozilla Foundation has greatly boosted Firefoxs usability, some configuration options have been removed from the main settings interface, forcing advanced users to rely more on extensions to the browser or on complicated changes through About:config. These changes may lessen confusion for novice users, but they put Firefox even further behind the Opera Web browser when it comes to ease and breadth of configuration.
Users upgrading to Firefox 2.0 will instantly notice the updated interface, which uses a new default theme that has glowing, three-dimensional-like buttons on the tool bar. Some of the biggest changes to the interface, however, are in the use and management of tabbed windows.
Firefox 2.0 finally changes the long-standing Mozilla style of closing tabs through a button on the right side of the browser. With Firefox 2.0, as with other tabbed browsers, there is a close button on each tab. This is a big improvement to the Firefox browser, making it much easier to close only the tabs the user wants to close. We also like that a Recently Closed Tabs item has been added to the History menu.
Firefox 2.0 adds scrolling arrows to each side of the browser window, leaving each tab the same size instead of scrunching them all together as in previous Firefox releases. This allowed us to see the title for each tab even when we had lots of tabs open.
Firefoxs search has been enhanced with a feature that displays a drop-down list of suggested search terms when users begin entering a word in the integrated search field (see screen). Search engine management also has been improved, and new search engines can be added from a long list of common offerings.
Firefox 2.0 cant add a search engine from all sites—as Opera does very well and IE 7 does to a certain degree—but if a site has a search engine that uses OpenSearch technology, Firefox 2.0 will give users the option to add that site to their integrated search engine list.
One of the browsers coolest features—and one that greatly boosts usability—is the new integrated spell- checker, which verifies users spelling when content is entered in Web-based forms and fields. In other browsers, this functionality can be added through plug-ins and add-ons, but we liked the smooth integration of the spell-checking function in Firefox 2.0.
Finding out about RSS feeds and subscribing to them is also improved in Firefox 2.0. When we clicked on a feed link, rather than showing RSS code, Firefox showed an informative summary page and provided a drop-down menu with several options for subscribing to the feed. Also new is the Live Titles feature—small, updatable headlines created by Web sites that display in the bookmark headings in Firefox.
Anti-phishing features have become a must-have capability for modern browsers, and we found Firefox 2.0s anti-phishing features to be solidly implemented. When we surfed to a potentially malicious Web site, Firefox launched a very obvious pop-up. Firefox also can subscribe to a Google-based service that checks a site against a known list of phishing sites, or it can use a periodically updated list that is downloaded to the browser.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.