Firefox 2.0: Not Radical, but Just Right

Mozilla's return volley isn't as strong as Microsoft's serve, but does it need to be?

There's no denying that Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 7 release is a heftier upgrade than Mozilla's new Firefox 2.0 release. Where Microsoft has significantly added to the feature set, Mozilla has tweaked its feature set. (It was already ahead in the features war.) The question is: Are those tweaks enough to keep the open-source browser on top?

When I asked Computerworld readers (in last week's "Firefox 2 First Impressions" story) what they liked and disliked most about Firefox 2.0, the answers were a little surprising.

The most thumbs-up feature was inline spell checking. Spell checking for a browser? Anyone who writes blogs, forum posts or blog comments, or who works in Web forms on social networking sites, for example, will find Firefox's spelling checker a boon.

It works almost exactly the same as Microsoft Word's built-in spell checker, underscoring an apparently misspelled word with a red line. By right-clicking the underscore, you can opt to change the spelling to any of the suggested spellings, or choose to add it to your local dictionary, to be remembered -- and ignored -- from then on. While it's not exactly a major feature, Firefox's spell checker is one of the few features that Microsoft didn't match in Internet Explorer 7.

Firefox's new spell checker operates in blog posts, forums and any Web form
 

Firefox's new spell checker operates

in blog posts, forums and any Web form

(Click to see larger view)

The most thumbs-down change, according to Computerworld readers -- perhaps even more surprisingly -- is the loss of the Firefox Mail toolbar button, which under the previous versions of the browser gave you a shortcut to reading or composing e-mail.

Most readers were indifferent to the mild update of the default Firefox theme, which amounts to little more than revised toolbar buttons and some very minor tweaks here and there. There was also little praise for the new Windows installer, provided by Nullsoft, which Mozilla promises will do away with several long-standing Firefox installation problems.

You have to look hard to see the changes in Firefox 2.0 over the previous generation
 

You have to look hard to see the changes in Firefox 2.0

over the previous generation

(Click to see larger view)

First things first: your extensions!

Longtime Firefox users have a tendency to become very attached to their extensions. The Mozilla team definitely understands this, and it appears it has made a good effort at outreach to the more popular extension developers. Most people report that something like 75% of their extensions have either been replaced by built-in Firefox 2.0 functionality or are running satisfactorily with the new browser. Many of the remaining extensions, such as the popular Tab Mix Plus, will likely need significant updating because of the way Firefox has incorporated some but not all of their features.

This reader message typifies many we received concerning extension support:

All of my extensions worked fine at home but I had one at work that wasn't supported (an RSS Feed reader I hadn't used in a while anyway). —Eric Christensen, network analyst
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