The latest volley in this not-quite-ready-for-prime-time conflict comes from the Mozilla Foundation, which released the first public beta of its next-generation Web browser on July 12.
eWEEK Labs tests show that Beta 1 of the open-source Firefox 2.0 includes some welcome new features, catches up a bit with capabilities found in other Web browsers and adds some nice security enhancements.
However, while Firefox 2.0 is shaping up to be a good upgrade to Version 1.5 of the popular Web browser, it doesnt look like it will be the slam-dunk over the forthcoming Internet Explorer 7 that Firefox 1.5 has been to the current IE 6.x.
For that matter, unless Firefox 2.0 and IE 7 improve greatly before their respective releases later in 2006, neither will come close to topping the quality of the already shipping Opera 9.
One clear advantage that Firefox will always have over Internet Explorer, though, is that it runs on multiple platforms, including older versions of Windows. IE 7, in contrast, wont run on anything other than Windows XP SP 2 or newer operating systems. In our tests, the Firefox 2.0 beta ran well and identically on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
A welcome new feature in the Firefox 2.0 beta is an integrated spell-checker, which will be especially useful when entering content 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.
Also well-implemented is the anti-phishing warning feature, which launched a very obvious pop-up when we surfed to a potentially malicious Web site. This isnt a new capability—both Opera 9 and the IE 7 betas weve looked at have anti-phishing features—but we liked the prominent way that Firefox 2.0 flags phishing sites (identified through an updated list that the browser downloads regularly).
Firefoxs search features have also been beefed up: When we began entering a word in the integrated search box, Firefox 2.0 displayed a drop-down list of suggested search terms. Search engine management also has been improved, and new search engines can be added from a list (although we couldnt add many search engines that we could in Opera 9).
Probably one of the most unique features in Firefox 2.0 Beta 1 is the addition of microsummaries for bookmarked Web sites. Microsummaries are essentially small updated headlines that sites can create that display in the bookmark sidebar in Firefox. When bookmarking a site with microsummaries, we could choose to view the summary headlines in bookmarks.
However, users who have been testing the alphas of Firefox 2.0 may be disappointed to find that the Places interface for viewing bookmarks and histories has been removed from this beta, and probably from the final release of Firefox 2.0.
Firefox 2.0 now does a better job of handling both browser crashes and accidental tabbed window closures. A new recovery feature let us return to the exact same browser profile we had had prior to a crash of our browser or system. We also really liked the Recently Closed Tabs section in the History menu, which made it simple to bring back tabbed windows we had accidentally closed. Opera provided this feature first, in its Trashcan, but we liked this implementation a bit better.
Firefox 2.0 will mark the end of the browsers failed experiment of putting the Close Tab button on the side of the browser tool bar. In Beta 1, Firefox works like other tabbed browsers in putting the Close Tab X directly on the tabs.
Feed management has been improved through the addition of a preview page that provides information on an RSS feed when the user is subscribing to it. The most surprising thing about this feature is that it marks the first time, at least as far as we can remember, that a feature appeared in IE before Firefox (IE 7 betas already have this capability.)
Firefox 2.0 Beta 1 includes quite a bit of under-the-covers improvement and additional standards support, although, unlike Opera 9 and Safari—but like IE 7—it will still not pass the Acid2 Web standards test from webstandards.org.
While Firefox 2.0 is a public beta, it is still an early beta, and users not willing to be test subjects should probably stick to the shipping version of the browser. To download Firefox 2.0 Beta 1, go to http://www.mozilla.org/projects/bonecho/index-2.0b1.html.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.