Firefox 2 is no dud

Firefox 2 is no dud

Summary: The Mozilla Foundation released Firefox 2.0 today, and respected columnist Paul Thurrott immediately labeled it "a dud". I couldn't disagree more. Here's why...

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TOPICS: Browser
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Arguably the world's most popular open source project ever, Mozilla Firefox just got even better today with its 2.0 production release. Previously I've written articles that compared Firefox and IE, and listed a few tips for tweaking Firefox, so I was tempted to pass on a new Firefox article. That is, until I read an article today from Paul Thurrott who calls Firefox 2 "a dud" and "unimpressive". He writes:

Firefox 2.0 is free, but it's a woefully minor improvement over Firefox 1.5 that suffers from various incompatibility problems, especially with themes and other add-ons. I wouldn't recommend this new version, to be honest. I'll be sticking with Firefox 1.5 at least for now. I recommend you do the same, or switch to the surprisingly solid IE 7.0.

To his credit, Paul has been a long-time advocate for Firefox, so I was a bit surprised by his take on the new version. The fact is, Firefox 2 is a huge improvement over the previous version. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Spell checking. A built-in spell checker lets users check the spelling of text entered into web forms (like the one I'm using to write this). This feature alone is a lifesaver.

Phishing protection. Paul says IE's is better, and I haven't put them to the test so I can't say. But the presence of this protection at all is surely a boon to Firefox users, and it will only get better with time.

Stability. Just today I had IE7 wedge up my entire Windows system. At least when Firefox crashes (and it still does sometimes) it has the courtesy to not take everything else down with it. Plus it remembers any tabs you had open and offers to reopen them for you.

Security. We could debate whether FF or IE is "inherently" more secure, as in which browser has fewer security holes that are waiting to be exploited. But there can be no argument about which browser has had the most exploits logged against it. Just recently there was another bad one involving ActiveX. I had to hide IE on my son's computer because he'll click on anything. Now all he can use is Firefox.

Updates. Firefox is undergoing rapid development. How often will we see IE improvements?

Extensibility. Firefox add-ons are immensely powerful, small, and easy to develop. If you know HTML and a little JavaScript you're more than half the way there. IE has extensions, but you have to write them in C/C++ which is (take my word as a 20-year C developer) much harder. 

Portability and standards. Maybe you don't use a Mac or Linux desktop yourself, but an increasing percentage of your users do, especially in emerging markets. By developing your pages and applications using vendor-neutral standards (which Firefox has embraced) you can hedge your bets.

Open source. Firefox is available as open source so anyone motivated enough and skilled enough can go in there and make changes. If IE had been open source, how long do you think it would have had all those annoying CSS problems that bugged web developers for years? 

The Internet Explorer team is (finally) making improvements to the Microsoft browser, and indeed IE7 has some nice benefits of its own. But in this round of the Browser Wars, Firefox 2 and the open source community come out on top. I can't wait to see what they have in store for the next version!

Update 10/25/2006: In a nice example of professional respect, the staff at Mozilla HQ in Mountain View, CA received a cake from Microsoft's Internet Explorer team.

Topic: Browser

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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113 comments
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  • Spot On!

    Thanks Ed! :)
    D T Schmitz
  • Very Well Said

    I think you said this very well!!!!
    linuxgoober
  • FF/2

    Both FF/2 and IE/7 have features and benifits but with the people they have working onthem I expected more. Where are all of those high priced educations being used not at either FF/2 of IE/7.. Maybe next versions will impress.
    jclark427
    • FF/2 should have been better?

      Okay Mr. Smartypants, let's see [u]you[/u] write a better browser.
      unix.dude
  • Add-ons

    Zeroing in on just this aspect, i looked through IE's "official" site for add-ons, and well more than half are pay-apps, and most of those have free equivalents as Firefox add-ons. And several of the ones listed for IE are old standbys, like Flash and Acrobat Reader plug-ins. Technically, added functionality, but not new.

    i'm deeply unimpressed with IE7. Yes, it's great to finally have decent (but still selective) CSS compliance, but as i'm finding with my web coding, the Javascript engine and DOM compliance are still exceptionally weak. There's still a LOT of distance for IE to cover, and as pointed out in many places: how often will we see releases of that progress from IE? And that compared to Firefox's nonstop development. To me, there's still no contest.
    thookerov
    • Expand your search for add-ons.

      Consider the Downloads tab at the top of the page or CNet's downloads.com. Then check sites like Softpedia and FileForum.

      By the time you finish, you will find hundreds of add-ons for any purpose you choose, many of them free, and many working very well because they have been available for years.
      IE had these features while people were still complaining about the Mozilla browser code bloat.

      The Microsoft add-on site is still being developed to adequacy. (Unlike IE 7.)
      Anton Philidor
      • Hmm, can you find these?

        Are there really that many add-ons for IE7? Where are the free equivalent of these FireFox add-ons?

        - ForecastFox
        - FireBug
        - Chatzilla
        - Google browser sync
        - Foxytunes
        - Chatzilla
        - Flashgot
        - Adblock Plus
        - Fireftp
        Ed Burnette
        • Unfair comparison

          Firefox (With its add-on support) has been around much longer than IE7 (and its equivalent functionality). Firefox add-ons that are really popular have been around for a very long time and are updated with each point release.

          IE7 will develop a large library of add-ons in much the same way Firefox did, albeit slower, due to the inherent dislike that many techy programmer types have for IE.

          I'm more worried about the interface issues. I know that IE7 takes some getting used to, but the implementation of new features on the FF interface just looks awkward, even skinned. I hope it doesn't go for that overly cluttered Opera look.
          Ben_E
          • What's unfair about it?

            IE has been around longer than Firefox. Anton says there are tons of add-ons for IE if you just go looking for them, so I picked some of the most popular Firefox ones and challenged him to find their equivalents for IE.
            Ed Burnette
  • Nice

    Thanks for the correct take on FireFox. It does has great new features.

    Another FireFox Pro Point...
    FireFox 2 runs really well on Windows 98.
    Internet Explorer 7 does not install on Windows 98. Hmmm.. I wonder if Paul Thurrott also considered that, in his Pro / Con list of FireFox 2 ? :-S
    sys6656
  • You let your son be admin?

    " I had to hide IE on my son's computer because he'll click on anything. Now all he can use is Firefox."

    I set my family as regular users and let them click away. I don't have have anti spyware or anti virus installed. Never had a problem.
    georgeou
    • Do you really think you can fix all IE7 security problems by running as

      regular users? So what if they can only trash a user account. They can still do fishing atacks, forward email with a virus, etc. And, therein lies the problem, everything on Windows is held together with bailing wire and duct tape.
      DonnieBoy
    • He's not admin but still...

      Like you, I have it set up so the family uses regular accounts, and the admin account is password protected. But that's not enough.

      Wow, I'm surprised you haven't had a problem yet. Consider yourself lucky and install some protection ASAP!
      Ed Burnette
      • There are many who do not have security problems...

        ... even without hardware protection. The most frequent vulnerability is human, not software.

        Your son is apparently of an age when his trust allows him to be fooled. It's too bad that children have to learn enough about the world to be suspicious.

        But many people who authorize infection do not have the excuse of youth.

        By the way, I use a free AV (Avast!) and Windows Defender, with a weekend check with AdAware.
        They never find anything, but checking is responsible.
        Anton Philidor
        • Wisdom doesn't guarantee security

          > Your son is apparently of an age when his
          > trust allows him to be fooled.

          I'd argue that while that certainly is a factor, even some of the older and wiser among us have fallen prey to malware. There have been security exploits where simply visiting a perfectly normal looking site (like a MySpace page) could get you infected.

          I'm not saying running FF magically protects you, but wouldn't you agree that historically, there have been many examples of exploits in the wild that would affect an IE user but not an FF user?
          Ed Burnette
      • Just curious

        Is your file system NTFS? If you're using FAT32 regular user permissions only protect the registry (at the API level, anyway). NTFS extends the user privileges down to the file system level. This is important since it prevents malware from installing in your system directories. For internet access I generally use a default configured limited access account and use a "run as" scheme with this account for running the apps. I log in as a less restricted user and "run as" the more restricted user. Haven't had a problem yet.

        As to the later post that pointed out that some sites don't run without Admin privileges, this is true. I've run into this myself on occasion, particularly when accessing auto dealer or car rental sites (for some reason). I figure it has to do with the Flash code they're running. Like George has pointed out with Windows software, I wish web designers would design sites that don't require these privileges.
        Mark Miller
    • Re: You let your son be admin?

      [i]I set my family as regular users and let them click away.[/i]

      Are they still clicking away? I tried that and the clicking stopped within 2 days. There's a lot of children's content out there that plain doesn't work with user permissions.


      :)
      none none
    • I'm curious George, how exactly do you know...

      ... you've never had a problem if you don't scan your computer????
      thelemite
    • both my sons are ...

      Both of my sons WORK as admins, and both work out of USER
      accounts on their own computers. Because they are not fools. My
      daughter, however, is ignorant of IT issues and her admin
      boyfriend set up her system for her ... I don't ask.
      All systems in our home - mostly Macs - are set up with user
      accounts for any likely user. NOBODY logs in to the admin account
      except to do admin work. Because I'm paranoid and convinced
      them all (five adults, two kids) it could be a seriously Bad Idea.
      dlmeyer@...
  • No, Paul was right.

    Paul was right. This release of FF smacks of 1.6, not 2.0. There is nothing monumental going on here other than the same obtusely vocal and whinny bunch (roughly 15%) trying to distract from the real news, IE7.

    If you're not old enough, than let me catch you up. IE was the first browser to implement the use CSS and PNG. Opera developed tabbed browsing. Netscape 3 was better than IE3, but IE4 kicked Netscape 4's butt, which is why you have FF today.

    Opera! Now there's a browser that has gone through evolutionary leaps and bounds in it's history. But where are the fluffy quasi-journalists commending those folks and extolling it's virtues?

    I don't think there's a need to talk about security for anyone who's REALLY payed attention to vunerability reports over the last 2 years.

    This so-called browser war (15% to 85% isn't really a war, folks.) is being fueled by less-than-knowledgable pundants trying to garner some time in the spotlight...like the one that wrote the article above.

    Get over it. It's only a freaking browser for God's sake. Browsers don't write web pages, people do.
    SouthManager