Pings & Packets from eWEEK Labs - 39

Firefox 1.5 Beta gains needed features ... Vista Build 5219 looks slick ... Belkin's G Plus gets a B-minus.

Firefox 1.5 Beta Gains Needed Features

While Firefox 1.5, released in Beta 1 this month, doesnt look like it will be an earth-shattering new version, it is shaping up to be a welcome upgrade that addresses some shortcomings of the open-source Web browser.

At first glance, the browser looked the same to me, whether I was running it on Linux, Mac OS X or Windows. The only noticeable interface change was the RSS feed icons move from the bottom status bar to the top address bar.

However, once I accessed the menus—and especially the Options window, which has been shifted to a more horizontal tabbed interface—things looked much different.

A welcome new feature, especially for those who share browsers, is that all surfing information—including histories, cookies and cache—can be deleted via a single menu item or by hitting Ctrl-Shift-Del.

Beta 1 also makes it much easier to work with browser tabs and bookmarks in Firefox. To add or reorganize tabbed windows and bookmarks, I could simply drag and drop them.

One of the most important new features of Firefox 1.5 is the improved seamless automatic updating, which will hopefully be a step up from the current kludgy process. However, I couldnt test it in this beta because no updates were available during my testing.

As a Beta 1, Firefox 1.5 is probably not well-suited for regular browser usage at this time, especially for those who rely on Firefox extensions, many of which are broken by this beta. But developers and other early adopters who want to test out the beta can get it at www.mozilla.org.

--Jim Rapoza

Vista Build 5219 Looks Slick

Build 5219 of Microsofts Windows Vista has gotten slicker, but its features havent quite fallen into place.

Build 5219, which Microsoft doled out at its Professional Developers Conference earlier this month, is the first of a series of roughly monthly Vista test builds that Microsoft plans to distribute to the same audience of developers and large enterprise customers that received the Beta 1 code.

The biggest addition I found was a set of eye-candy features that take advantage of Vistas new hardware-accelerated presentation framework. Machines with gaming-level video cards can render the task bar with transparency and display thumbnail pictures of running applications in the task bar and in the Alt-Tab window-cycling dialog.

The new visual elements are cool-looking and even marginally useful, but they fall well short of making the case for video card upgrades once Vista hits the streets.

In what has become my first checklist item for all Vista releases, I checked if the GIMP open-source graphics application would run on Vista—it hasnt on any of the "Longhorn" or Vista builds Ive tested so far, and it doesnt run on Build 5219. As in previous versions, Vista dutifully logged GIMPs failure to run in its event viewer.

Build 5219 contains new peer-to-peer networking interface elements that were absent from the Beta 1 code, but I couldnt make two Build 5219 test machines locate each other or share anything peer to peer.

For more information, go to msdn.microsoft.com/windowsvista.

--Jason Brooks

Belkins G Plus Gets a B-Minus

With the new Wireless G Plus MIMO Router and Notebook Card, Belkin hits the $100 barrier for MIMO gear. In tests, I found performance is pretty good, but theres faster MIMO out there.

Like its predecessor, the Pre-N Router, the Wireless G Plus MIMO Router (which shipped last month for $100) is based on Airgos True MIMO chip set, which simultaneously uses multiple receive and transmit antennas to leverage multipath propagation, thereby increasing throughput performance. To reduce costs in the Wireless G Plus MIMO Router, however, Belkin eliminated one receive antenna—in my tests, this helped reduce performance up to 25 percent when compared with Belkins Pre-N hardware.

When I tested the Wireless G Plus MIMO Router with a client using Belkins $80 Wireless G Plus MIMO Notebook Card and the latest client driver available on the Belkin Web site, I achieved an underwhelming (for MIMO) 22M-bps throughput at 30 feet and 4.5M-bps throughput at 135 feet.

However, Belkin provided me with Beta Version 1.5 of the client driver, which ratcheted performance results up to 30.5M bps and 14.5M bps, respectively, at the same distances. Version 1.5 should be available next month. More information is at world.belkin.com.

--Andrew Garcia