Firefox 2.0 Beta 2

I just installed the new Firefox 2.0 beta 2. There are a few nice improvements over 1.5:

  • The most visible change is the new theme. The changes are pretty subtle but seem to be aimed at improving usability.
  • One of my petpeeves: the lack of a search button in the toolbar has been fixed. The go button, which accompanies the url bar, has been there forever but until now the search box had to do without one.
  • Tabs now have their own close button instead of a global tab close button way on the left. This was a usability nightmare from the moment this ‘feature’ was introduced a few years ago. People have been complaining about it ever since. It’s a good example of how long it can take to convince software engineers of something when they have digged themselves into the sand :-).
  • The themes and extensions window have been merged into an addons window. This is probably a good change but it doesn’t go far enough for me: it should be integrated with the options window. I frequently confuse the two and open one when I intended to do something in the other.
  • There’s a ‘recently closed tabs’ option in the history menu. Nice! Also there’s a ‘undo close tab’ option in the context menu on the tab bar. I used to have an extension that did more or less the same. Nice to see good features being picked up by the developer theme.
  • Spell checking. This is a nice feature except for two things: it has no (permanent) disable function. You can toggle ‘spellcheck this field’ in the context menu but the setting does not persist so it comes back on the next time you edit a textfield. Also there is no configuration userinterface for the spellchecker. For example installing a dutch dictionary requires some configuration that requires a number of steps which are probably documented somewhere but not obvious from the present userinterface. So if I go to a dutch site with the us version of firefox (I prefer the english userinterface), basically every word I type will be highlighted as misspelled. Hidden in the context menu of a spellchecked field is an option add dictionaries which takes you to the addons site. The url ends with /dictionaries but there is nothing on the page related to dictionaries. So this needs some work. Suggestions: add a dictionaries tab to the addons window and a disable spellchecking option to the content options tab. BTW. the spellcheck feature is already annoying me. I guess I’ll be looking for an extension to get rid of it. Amazing how many non dictionary listed words can sneak into a post like this.
  • The subscribe to RSS feeds feature has been improved and you can now subscribe using an external feedreader or using several websites, such as Bloglines, which I have been using since a few weeks.
  • Apparently there’s a new phishing/malware detection tool. This might prevent people like my mother from installing spyware. I’ve depended on common sense for years now to prevent me from getting into trouble with worms, viruses, etc. That strategy seems to work fine but having some kind of advanced warning before clicking somewhere is of course nice.

I don’t see much negative stuff anymore so I think I’m going to use this build until the release candidates start appearing. I’ve blogged previously about the version number. Given that the half finished spellchecker + rss fixes are the biggest changes and the rest is merely minor cosmetic work, I still don’t think this counts as worthy of a major version number bumb. However, this seems to be another ‘heels digged into sand’ kind of thing. Everybody has been pointing this out for months and all the 2.0 reviews I’ve read so far seem to point out that there isn’t that much new in Firefox 2.0 as well (I predicted that this would happen on Ben Goodger’s blog a few months ago, seems I was right). For example, ars technica, which usually does a decent job of reviews, says this about the version number:

Is the new release really deserving of the 2.0 moniker? It’s hard to say, given the fact that it looks and feels very much like 1.x. Is it a better browser than 1.x? Definitely.

I think I agree with this assessment 100% It’s definitely a nice incremental improvement and who cares about version numbers anyway :-).

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