Quite uncharacteristically, I have not been touching any nightly builds of firefox since 1.0. Part of the reason is that the mozilla developers seem to have abandoned the notion of bi-monthly milestones (so it has been a long time since any reasonably stable build). But today I gave the DeerPark alpha rc1 a try. That means it is a first release candidate of a first alpha of what will be Mozilla FireFox 1.1 some day. It is now named Deerpark so regular Firefox users don’t touch it. Probably this is a good thing because you can expect things to break down when using alpha software.
Deerpark is a nice browser. Of course it has a few little quirks (hey it’s an alpha build) but you can browse with it and overall it is as pleasant to use as its predecessor. Deerpark is not revolutionary in its interface. A few minor tweaks in the user interface are all you will notice at a first glance. The most significant change is in the options pane where you now have a horizontal icon bar instead of a vertical one. Not an improvement IMHO but I rarely use it anyway. Also some of the preferences have been rearranged but nothing revolutionary here too.
Under the hood the biggest change is svg rendering. Svg rendering has been under development from about 2000. I recall trying svg builds years ago. Svg is one of those more or less failed w3c standards that still await widespread adoption (other than niche grahphical products and linux desktop decoration). Deerpark could be what triggers this adoption.
Another notable but mostly invisble change is gecko that is now a year older than the version shipped with FireFox 1.0 and presumably has had quite a few tweaks (performance, standards compliance, rendering bugs, etc). Apparently they also fixed inline editing.
Other than that the fixes are minor. Deerpark is a nice incremental change but nothing revolutionary.
So why am I back to FireFox 1.0.4? Answer: extensions. I need my extensions. In particular sage (http://sage.mozdev.org) is important for me and sage needs to be fixed for deerpark. Several other extensions I use, also need to be fixed. I suspect many extensions will be fixed in the next few months. Probably the Firefox/deerpark beta will be a moment when many 1.0 users start to switch.