Firefox 1.5 Beta Looks Better than Ever

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-09-09

Firefox 1.5 Beta Looks Better than Ever

The Firefox 1.5 beta is out, and at a first glance, it looks pretty darn good.

But, and this is a big but, this is a beta build, so there is no guarantee that it will work. It worked with every Web site I tried, but it also will not work with the vast majority of extension programs.

One of my colleagues found that five out of seven of her extensions, including several that were indispensable to her daily work, no longer functioned.

This is by design. Firefoxs Extension System for 1.0x and below was broken. For example, the installation, upgrade and uninstall subsystems were not very robust at all.

When installing a new version of an extension, files from older versions would be left behind, and this could lead to incompatibilities and mysterious crashes.

The fix was to completely revamp the Extension System. Unfortunately for users who want to use the beta as their main browser today, that means theyll have to do without their favorite extensions.

Extension developers are aware of these changes, so new, 1.5-compatible extensions should be in place well before the final version of 1.5 hits the street some time in November or December. Mozilla will be releasing a list of 1.5-compatible extensions within the week.

The new Firefox 1.5 Beta is available here from the Mozilla project site.

With the extension problem out of the way, though, no matter whether you run Firefox 1.5 on a Windows, Linux or Mac OS system, you wont be able to tell the difference between this beta and the currently shipping Firefox 1.06.

This is a far cry from Microsofts Internet Explorer 7 beta, which will only be available in its fully secured version on the forthcoming Vista operating system. IE 7s improvements are largely surface features such as tabbed browsing.

If you take a deeper look at Firefox 1.5, however, youll find that besides continuing to incorporate features that Microsoft is still adding in IE 7, there are many improvements that the Mozilla Foundation must hope will make Firefox the browser of choice on all platforms.

For starters, Firefox, taking a leaf from the Opera browser, works much faster at rendering pages that youve already viewed.

This means that when you use the back and forward arrows, youll see your pages much faster.

Read more here about the new Firefox beta.

That may sound small, but when viewing message boards and online forums, it can give a much smoother reading experience.

Next Page: Performance Tweaks, Improved Management and Standards Also Welcome Additions

Performance Tweaks, Improved Management

and Standards Also Welcome Additions">

The overall performance of the browser is also better. Were seeing this because Gecko, the layout and rendering engine behind the browser, has been tightened up and made faster.

Another little change that makes a big difference is that you can now drag-and-drop tab and bookmark tool-folder Web sites. This makes it much easier to keep the Web sites youre always visiting in whatever order works best for you at the moment.

Firefox, which has always done well at blocking pop-ups, has improved its pop-up ad protection in this next version. While its coverage is not perfect, I did find it blocked ads that Firefox 1.06 had let through in the past.

The revised browser also makes it easy to get rid of private information with the new Tools/Clear Private Data command. This gives you the option of getting rid of such information as your browsing history, saved passwords, cookies and the like.

For the most part, the interface, while looking the same as ever, has several minor improvements. For instance, the Tools/Options display is now easier to navigate.

There are, however, some beta glitches. The bookmark management window displays the bookmarks in one order, but, at times, the browser displayed the bookmarks themselves in the far less useful order in which I had entered them.

Firefoxs update system has also, finally, been brought into the 21st century. In the past, when you updated Firefox, what you really were doing was downloading a completely new copy of the program and installing it over the old one.

Now, Mozilla has adopted an automatic patching procedure, which will only download necessary changes to your computer. The result should not only be faster updates, but youll also have less chance of running into incompatibility problems.

Finally, the new Firefox is very open-standard friendly. The program comes with support for SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) 2 and 3, DHTML (Dynamic HTML) and JavaScript 1.6.

This, in turn, enables Web designers to use these standards to, for instance, create sites that work with assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnifiers and alternative input device such as Braille displays.

Building on Firefoxs success, Mozilla goes for profit. Click here to read more.

Taken as a whole, this Firefox 1.5 beta makes it clear that it will both make its current users happy and help bring new users to it.

However, dont make the mistake so many people Ive heard from today have of believing that Firefox 1.5 is ready for work. Its not.

As a beta, without any technical support, without support for 1.0x extensions, it should not be used as a replacement for Firefox 1.0x or any other browser. Come December and its final release, it will be a different story.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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