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Mozilla Releases Firefox 2.0

Mozilla this week unveiled Firefox 2.0, the next generation of its Web browser that includes security enhancements and quite a few new features that make Web browsing a bit more fun and a lot more intuitive.

firefox.jpg

If you've been using Firefox for a while now, you might not notice too many surface differences in the new browser. But a few tweaks bear pointing out. Tabbed browsing -- a component that Mozilla pioneered which allows you to quickly switch between multiple Web sites within the same program window -- received a nice touch: It used to be that you had to click a red "X" at the rightmost edge of the browser screen to close a tab, and more than a few times I clicked the X while focusing on the wrong tab. Firefox 2.0 includes the lethal X inside of each tab.

I personally experienced one of Firefox's most practical new features -- the ability to recover from crashes that unexpectedly cause the browser to shut down. I installed a copy of Firefox 2.0 that I'd gotten from a group of Mozilla folks I met with about a week ago, and on Sunday I was putting together a blog post when another application suddenly froze up and seized close to 100 percent of my computer's memory usage, rendering the machine more or less unresponsive. I ended up having to reboot the system by holding down the power button on my PC.

When I fired up Firefox again on restart, the browser told me that it had detected an abnormal shutdown and asked me if I want to restore my previous session? I clicked "Yes" and up popped all nine Firefox windows I had open prior to the reboot, including one with the full text of what I had written in an unsaved blog post. For the millions of fellow bloggers out there who have no doubt at one point experienced the agony of losing an entire entry when an unforeseen crash wipes it all away, this is a very useful addition.

Firefox 2.0 includes a feature that can alert users if they have visited a suspected phishing Web site. Mozilla also fixed more than 1,000 stability and functionality bugs, though the new browser does not include any documented security updates. Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 7 also includes anti-phishing functionality, and it should be interesting going forward to compare how the two browsers stack up in identifying scam Web sites.

One of the issues I brought up in my sit down with the Mozilla team was the problem with Firefox windows consuming so much of my system's memory resources. On an older machine of mine that has just 512 megabytes of memory installed, Firefox would not infrequently use up more than half of that power, often leaving other programs lagging or causing slowness when opening new browser windows.

The Mozilla folks assured me that while the new version addresses some memory usage problems, the biggest resource hog on Firefox has traditionally been poorly written third-party browser extensions or "add-ons" as Mozilla is now calling them. The company said it is working with add-on developers to correct the memory usage problems, and that it may at some point give users an idea of how much memory each add-on can be expected to consume before installing.

All well and good, but I decided to put their words to the test. On my main PC I have no fewer than seven add-ons installed, all of which were updated after installing Firefox 2.0. When I visited the Windows Task Manager after installation, it showed that a single Firefox 2.0 window was taking up around 104 megabytes of system memory, whereas Internet Explorer 6.0 used just under 25 megabytes of memory. But when I installed the stock Firefox 2.0 on a test machine, the basic installation clocked in at a just 23 megabytes of memory usage.

One final note: A member of Mozilla's security team suggested earlier this summer that Firefox 2.0 might include a feature that checks to see whether plug-ins such as Macromedia Flash, Adobe, or Java were equipped with the latest software security updates. Alas, that functionality was not built into this edition, although Mozilla developers say they are pondering ways to introduce this into the next major revision of Firefox due out sometime next year.

By Brian Krebs  |  October 25, 2006; 9:00 AM ET
 
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