Mozilla Firefox 2 (formerly known as Bon Echo) builds on the strength and the security demonstrated in Firefox 1.5 by adding several new features. Like Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 2 includes built-in antiphishing, but overall, Firefox 2 is much better than Microsoft Internet Explorer 7. Firefox 2 offers forward-looking features, such as Live Titles, as well as practical here-and-now tools, such as search engine suggestions, session restore, and inline spell-checking. Despite its many improvements, Firefox 2, like Internet Explorer 7, still does not pass the Acid2 Web Standards test, although, unlike Microsoft, Mozilla says it is working toward full compliance. Given its many pros and relatively few cons, Firefox 2 receives our Editors' Choice award for best Internet browser. For a look inside, see our Firefox 2 slide show.
You can download Firefox 2 for free, and unlike Internet Explorer 7, Firefox is available on a variety of operating systems: Windows, Mac, and Linux. There are also a wide variety of localised language versions, including Basque and Byelorussian. Again unlike IE 7, Firefox 2 does not require that you shut down antivirus protection nor does it perform a system reboot.
Unlike IE 7, which has reorganised its toolbar, Firefox 2 changes only the look and feel of its buttons. The new shiny-glass look is much more sophisticated, as are the rounded tabs and the hairline borders around the address bar and the search engine box. Missing, however, is Places, a side panel feature we saw briefly in alpha builds; Places organises bookmarks, RSS feeds, and history in one place, much like IE 7's Favorites Center. The good news is that Places will return in Firefox 3, which is currently under development.
Tabs have long been a part of Firefox. Now, with Firefox 2, you can open any number of tabs, rearrange them, and reopen a previously closed tab using the hot keys Ctrl-Shift-T. With another feature carried over from Firefox 1.5, you can also save active tabs as a bookmark so that you can open the entire set of tabs at a later time. Missing, however, are thumbnail previews of each tab (still available only as an extension).
At the far right of the Firefox toolbar is the search engine box. Firefox 2 now includes suggested search terms from the search engine itself; for instance type fire and Google returns Firefox among other suggestions. Firefox 2 provides several built-in search engines, such as Amazon and eBay -- far more than provided by IE 7 -- with the option to add even more search engines.
Should you decide to remove Firefox, you'll be disappointed. Despite the speed we witnessed upon instigating uninstall, the uninstall feature left behind several folders and far too many registry entries. Thus, if you want to clean out your Firefox completely or you attempt to load Firefox 2 as a clean browser, you'll be stuck with your previous bookmarks and preferences, including extensions, intact.
New in Firefox 2 is session restore; if Windows crashes and you have several tabs open in Firefox at the time, you can now relaunch Firefox with all the tabs intact. We found this feature to be very useful during the course of our tests.
Firefox 2 also gives you the ability to correct your spelling mistakes online, just like using a word processor. This is great for typing blogs or posting to a newsgroup. Common dictionary words are checked, with misspellings identified with a squiggly red line. You can add more words and even include dictionaries available in various languages. Once you have access to inline spell-checking, you won't want to surf the Web without it.
Possibly the coolest new feature is Live Titles, formerly Microsummaries, which allows Web sites to stream updated data to your bookmarks. You can add the Live Titles functionality to the Merriam-Webster dictionary site, for example, and once you have done so, when you bookmark a page, you can choose the Live Title option to display the word of the day in your bookmark. When you drop down the bookmark menu or open the bookmark side panel, you'll see the Merriam-Webster logo followed by the word of the day. For news sites such as the BBC's, you'll see the latest headline. Think of Live Titles as RSS-like feeds for your otherwise static bookmarks.
Unfortunately extensions designed for Firefox 1.5 will probably break within Firefox 2. When you install Firefox 2, a handy wizard checks to see if there are new versions of already installed 1.5 extensions available; in our case, some but not all of our favourites had not been optimised for 2.0, but then again, we were testing ahead of public release. In general, the Firefox add-on community is much more robust than that of Internet Explorer.
Security enhancements within Firefox 2 continue. New is a dialog box informing you of cross-domain scripting, a tactic used by criminal hackers to link nonrelated sites to sites you think may be legit. And Mozilla remains very responsive to fixing its vulnerabilities, pushing out updates within a few days of public notice. Microsoft, on the other hand, parses out its vulnerability fixes a little at a time. In the five years since its release, IE 6 has accrued a large deficit, and we see no sign that Microsoft is addressing new vulnerabilities found in IE 7 any faster.
The underlying Web rendering engine within Firefox 2 is Gecko 1.8, and it is largely unchanged from the previous release, Firefox 1.5. The next release of Firefox should include a new rendering engine.Unfortunately, Firefox 2 does not fully support all the standards supported by the W3C organisation, so it fails what is called the Acid2 test, a test designed by the Web Standards Project, although Mozilla is working hard toward full compliance. For comparison, of the browsers tested by CNET, only Opera 9 passed the test; IE 7 fared the worst, unable to render the page in the correct colours or shapes.
Antiphishing technology within Firefox 2 is good, and the technology has steadily improved throughout the various betas we've seen. We tested Firefox 2 on a fraudulent Bank of America site less than one hour old; the program caught the page immediately. For comparison, IE 7 also flagged the same fraudulent banking site. Most phishing sites are removed after their initial 72 hours of existence. In general, we have found that stand-alone antiphishing filters, such as Netcraft's, perform far better at flagging brand-new phishing sites than antiphishing filters bundled with Internet browsers.
There are many enhancements within Firefox 2, making it a worthy upgrade for existing users and a fine introduction for new users. Firefox is truly innovative, yet it's also very practical for everyday use.