Review - Firefox 2
by , 9:00 AM EST, November 20th, 2006
For some, their Web browser of choice is just as emotionally charged as their choice in operating systems. For the rest of us, there are several quality Web browsers to choose from, and Firefox 2 certainly holds its own.
The Firefox Web browser is open source and free, and comes from the Mozilla Foundation. Its history is firmly rooted in Netscape Navigator - The applications share a common foundation. The new version touts that it offers phishing protection, better RSS support, improved search features, improved tabbed browsing, and Session Restore.
Phishing is the act of scamming an unsuspecting user into giving up personal information like bank account numbers, PIN codes, passwords, and other information that can be used in illegal activities - including identity theft. If you have ever received an email claiming to be from a bank that needs you to update your account information, it's a scam. Clicking a link in the email typically takes you to a bogus Web site that looks legitimate. You enter your personal information, and start seeing unexpected charges on your credit card. Ouch.
Firefox 2 does a pretty good job of catching sites that are trying to steal your personal information by checking the URLs you visit against a list of known phishing sites. The list is stored on your computer, so it may not always be up to date. You can choose to let Firefox compare the sites you visit to Google's online phishing list, but that means every URL you enter into Firefox gets sent to Google. Not everyone will be comfortable with that, but at least Firefox makes it very clear that is exactly what will happen, and includes an option to change your mind before setting the feature.
I've never been a big fan of using my Web browser as an RSS news reader application, and Firefox 2 hasn't done anything to change my mind, although its RSS features are more complete that Safari's. In Safari, you can tell how many new articles have been added to your feeds, but you have to open the feed to see what's there. Firefox lets you see a list of headlines, which makes it easier to see if there is anything of interest without actually opening your feed bookmark. Like Safari, you can also choose to use an alternate application to view the RSS feeds that Firefox monitors for you.
Still, I won't be giving up my news reader application any time soon. Firefox's RSS support is just too cumbersome when you have lots of watched feeds. In my case, that's about 150. If you watch a small handful of feeds, Firefox may work okay for you.
Firefox's built-in search feature is nice. Instead of limiting you to Google, it also includes Yahoo!, Amazon, Answers.com. Creative Commons, and eBay. Just pick the one you want from the pop-up menu in the search field.
Tabbed browsing, or the ability to view multiple Web pages in a single tabbed window instead of individual windows, is a necessity for many Web surfers, including me. Each tab displays the favicon for the page it is displaying - a handy feature when you have lots of open tabs and can't read the page titles. It also includes a nice little pop-up menu that displays a list of your tabs. If you have so many tabs open that they can't all display in your browser window, you can pick the one you are looking for from the list.
And one feature Safari still doesn't have without the help of third-party plug-ins: Movable tabs. Moving tabs to organize them into logical groups is a no-brainer feature that every browser should have.
So, what's Firefox 2's killer feature? Session Restore. If Firefox crashes, or you accidentally quit it, you won't lose all of your open tabs, windows and forms. Firefox 2 automatically restores your browser sessions the next time you relaunch it. If you have stability issues on your Mac, or maybe a cat that jumps on your keyboard and has a magical way of typing Command-Q, Session Restore is a godsend.
I used my super hi-tech measuring system (a stopwatch) to see if Safari or Firefox rendered Web pages faster, and I couldn't tell a difference on any site. For reference, I tested both on a 2.16GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM and Mac OS X 10.4.8. I did notice, however, that some of the URLs I entered in Firefox without an extension, like .com, or .org, failed to open the site and instead performed a Google search. Safari was able to figure out which extension to use and opened the correct Web pages.The Bottom Line
Firefox 2 is a reliable, stable and usable Web browser. It won't be replacing my current browser of choice, but I won't be dumping it off my hard drive, either. I didn't experience any significant site compatibility issues, and it was snappy at rendering Web pages.
If you are already pleased with Firefox, upgrading to version 2 will give you more of the good things you are already happy with - just be sure to check and see if the plug-ins you use are compatible with the new version. And check out that Session Restore feature: It rocks.
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