Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly On Firefox 2.0

Arguably the world's most popular open source project ever, Mozilla Firefox just got even better today with its 2.0 production release. Previously I've written articles that compared Firefox and IE, and listed a few tips for tweaking Firefox, so I was tempted to pass on a new Firefox article. That is, until I read an article today from Paul Thurrott who calls Firefox 2 "a dud" and "unimpressive". He writes:

Firefox 2.0 is free, but it's a woefully minor improvement over Firefox 1.5 that suffers from various incompatibility problems, especially with themes and other add-ons. I wouldn't recommend this new version, to be honest. I'll be sticking with Firefox 1.5 at least for now. I recommend you do the same, or switch to the surprisingly solid IE 7.0.

To his credit, Paul has been a long-time advocate for Firefox, so I was a bit surprised by his take on the new version. The fact is, Firefox 2 is a huge improvement over the previous version. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Spell checking. A built-in spell checker lets users check the spelling of text entered into web forms (like the one I'm using to write this). This feature alone is a lifesaver.

Phishing protection. Paul says IE's is better, and I haven't put them to the test so I can't say. But the presence of this protection at all is surely a boon to Firefox users, and it will only get better with time.

Stability. Just today I had IE7 wedge up my entire Windows system. At least when Firefox crashes (and it still does sometimes) it has the courtesy to not take everything else down with it. Plus it remembers any tabs you had open and offers to reopen them for you.

Security. We could debate whether FF or IE is "inherently" more secure, as in which browser has fewer security holes that are waiting to be exploited. But there can be no argument about which browser has had the most exploits logged against it. Just recently there was another bad one involving ActiveX. I had to hide IE on my son's computer because he'll click on anything. Now all he can use is Firefox.

Updates. Firefox is undergoing rapid development. How often will we see IE improvements?

Extensibility. Firefox add-ons are immensely powerful, small, and easy to develop. If you know HTML and a little JavaScript you're more than half the way there. IE has extensions, but you have to write them in C/C++ which is (take my word as a 20-year C developer) much harder.

Portability and standards. Maybe you don't use a Mac or Linux desktop yourself, but an increasing percentage of your users do, especially in emerging markets. By developing your pages and applications using vendor-neutral standards (which Firefox has embraced) you can hedge your bets.

Open source. Firefox is available as open source so anyone motivated enough and skilled enough can go in there and make changes. If IE had been open source, how long do you think it would have had all those annoying CSS problems that bugged web developers for years?

The Internet Explorer team is (finally) making improvements to the Microsoft browser, and indeed IE7 has some nice benefits of its own. But in this round of the Browser Wars, Firefox 2 and the open source community come out on top. I can't wait to see what they have in store for the next version!

Ed Burnette