The Mozilla Organization released not one, but two testing releases
on June 9. Mozilla 1.7RC3 and Firefox 0.9 RC were released for widespread
testing. Since Firefox is the future of the Mozilla line, we decided to
take a look at the latest Firefox release to see how it is shaping up on
its way to 1.0. As it turns out, a lot has changed since 0.8 and Firefox
seems to be turning into an excellent browser. Naturally, we were only
interested in testing the Linux version of the 0.9 release, but there are
packages available for Windows and Mac OS X as well.
The first noteworthy change since 0.8, or at least the change that is first
notable, is the addition of an installer for Linux users. Past releases of
Firefox for Linux came as tarballs without any kind of installer. For this
author, the difference between using an installer or simply uncompressing a
tarball of the latest build into a convenient directory is
negligible. Still, many users will probably find the installer much more
At install time, the new release copies over the profile from previous
versions of Firefox from the ~/.phoenix directory that was used to store
user data. If the ~/.phoenix directory does not exist, then Firefox will
import user data from Mozilla. This author tested both methods, and Firefox
imported the data from Firefox 0.8 and Mozilla 1.7 without any
problems. User profiles on Linux are now stored under ~/.mozilla/firefox/.
A few items have shifted around in the new release. Specifically, the
"Options" dialog is now "Preferences" and found under the "Edit" menu,
rather than the "Tools" menu. Themes and Extensions now have their own
managers, rather than being part of the Options/Preferences dialog. The
Extensions manager is a bit slicker now, and apparently will enable the
user to update their installed Extensions through Mozilla Update. At the moment,
however, this feature does not seem to be operational. Presumably, one will
also be able to use Mozilla Update to install and update themes in the
future as well.
One minor quibble with the Download manager: in 0.9, the default download
folder is "Desktop," which hardly seems like a suitable choice even for
Linux users who run a desktop environment that supports saving files to the
desktop. It's fixed easily enough, but one hopes that the Mozilla team will
switch the default to prompt the user for a download location.
Though this author did not conduct any scientific testing, the latest
Firefox release does seem faster than the previous release. The interface,
menus and so forth, seem a bit more responsive than previous releases, and
rendering also seems a bit snappier. Firefox 0.9 RC also seems a bit more
stable, though it has crashed once during testing. The 0.9 RC is certainly
more stable than the 0.9 nightly snapshot releases that this author had
been trying out.
The most obvious change, and one that has generated a great deal of
discussion, is the replacement of the current Firefox "Qute" theme with
a new theme called "Winstripe." For this author, it seems like far too much
fuss over a simple change. The browsing experience itself is not hampered
by the new theme, and one expects that new themes for Firefox will become
available for those who do not enjoy the default. The fact that users are
able to focus so much attention on Firefox's theme may be a good sign,
however. This may indicate that Firefox already meets their needs in terms
of speed, stability and feature completeness -- allowing users to focus
their attention on more superficial areas. If this is the case, the Mozilla
developers should regard the theme complaints as something of a compliment.
In all, the latest Firefox is an impressive browser. It lacks polish in a
few areas, but it is a solid browser with an impressive array of
features. We'll be quite interested to see what the final 1.0 release of
Firefox will look like when all is said and done.
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