Is Firefox 2.0 a dud? Are users better avoiding it and waiting until a future build? Are too many of the new features buggy and incomplete and is the browser overall more unstable that previous versions? What about Firefox on Vista?
The future for Firefox has to be that it (and Opera) must all run in protected mode, but for now Firefox doesn't Having used Firefox 2.0 for a few days I believe that some of these claims are quite justified, while others are highly exaggerated or based on user preferences. But if someone tells you that it's a bad idea to use Firefox on Windows Vista, do yourself a favor and listen to them because they are telling the truth.
Firefox 2.0 has been out for a week and the download counter is already well past 2 million. But a vocal group of Firefox users have generated quite a long list of gripes and grievances regarding this latest release. Some are even saying that upgrading to 2.0 might not be a good idea.
So what's behind all this? Here's a quick short list of the most popular Firefox 2.0 gripes:
- Random freezes
- Poor antiphishing technology
- Confused Options dialog box
- Bulky, inconsistent theme
- Incompatibility with extensions
- Memory leaks
- CSS issues
- Buggy history bar
I have to admit that I wasn't all that jazzed about Firefox 2.0 when it was released. IE7 had just been released and that was such a huge evolutionary step for Internet Explorer that it almost completely filled my requirements for what a browser should be. However, that didn't stop me downloading Firefox 2.0 and taking a look.
Some of these gripes come down to a matter of taste. Personally, I don't think that the new Firefox theme is all that bad but then I'm not all that fussed about how my browser looks - it's a window onto the Internet, not a piece of art. If people don't like the default shipped theme, there are plenty of others to choose from. I can't see how the Mozilla team is going to be able to please everyone all the time. I also don't find the Options dialog box too bad, although it is suffering from the developers trying to cram too much in. Despite this, it remains quite usable. As far as CSS goes, I think the problem people are seeing are sites built for Internet Explorer that aren't happy being displayed in Firefox.
I've not noticed a problem with the history bar, but it's possible that I've simply not looked closely enough.
However, some of the complaints are very valid indeed. The random freeze issue is apparent to me on two systems (both where Firefox 1.5 had previously been installed and behaved well). Session restore helps to save the day, but that's no excuse. The crashing is such a problem that it's just easier for me to use IE7.
Memory leaks are also present, and actually seem worse under Firefox 2.0 than under 1.x. I was hoping to find these fixed and I'm disappointed to find they aren't.
On a more serious note, complaints that the antiphishing filter is weak seem justified. I've thrown a number of dodgy phishing sites at Firefox 2.0 and its detect rate is appallingly low. Some people claim that any antiphishing filter is better than no antiphishing filter, but I disagree - at best this feature seems to offer users little more than false hope and at worst a false sense of security. By comparison, the antiphishing filter in IE7 seems a lot better and was able to flag as suspicious all the phishing sites I tested it with.
The claim that Firefox 2.0 is incompatible with a lot of popular extensions also seems true, though it has to be remembered that the Mozilla team have nothing to do with most of the extensions out there. They are third-party applications and require the developer to offer support for newer versions. However, extensions are one of Firefox's most compelling features and seeing a whole raft of disabled extensions, especially those that are well-used and loved, is going to put off a lot of existing users from upgrading.
Do I believe that current Firefox users should not upgrade to the latest version? No way. If you stick with 1.5.x then you're going to be at risk from unpatched vulnerabilities. The only way to go is up to 2.0 and keep downloading updates as they become available.
So what's my issue with running Firefox on Windows Vista? It's that it runs in standard user mode and has full access to the system. Internet Explorer 7 on the other hand runs in protected mode. Under this mode, Internet Explorer, along with ActiveX controls and add-ons such as toolbars, have only limited access to the file system and the registry and it's very difficult for a code to leverage a vulnerability and allow takeover of the system. Compare this to a vulnerability in Firefox which would give an attacker full access to the system. The future for Firefox has to be that it (and Opera) must all run in protected mode, but for now Firefox doesn't, and that represents a serious risk to users who use Windows Vista.
I can't help but feel that Firefox is a victim of its own success. The more users they have, the more masters they have to satisfy. More and more Firefox users see it as just another browser and feel that they are owed something. Too many of them don't see the work that goes into the product behind the scenes and instead choose to nitpick and exaggerate each small issue. That's the price of success when success is measured by the number of users. However, the Mozilla team also have some challenges which need to be overcome. Memory leaks and random crashes won't win any friends, and the antiphishing filter either needs a serious overhaul or it needs to be pulled from the browser until it is fit for purpose.