It's just an early alpha release at this point, but Mozilla Firefox 2.0 "Bon Echo" is an early showcase for the next round of the modern browser wars.
The first browser war was a blow-by-blow, feature-for-feature battle between every Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer release. The new browser war isn't going to be much different, as both Mozilla and Microsoft ramp up their next major version upgrades.
The first alpha in the Bon Echo release cycle is different from previous Firefox alphas, such as the 1.5 "Deer Park" release.
Bon Echo is far from stable or complete, though Firefox 2 is on a very aggressive schedule, with a stable final release expected in August of this year.
The new version is expected to offer an updated user interface, new history and bookmark system, search, extension, RSS and security enhancements over the current stable version of Firefox.
Mike Beltzner, user experience lead at Mozilla, recently said on his blog that the first Deer Park alpha code was known to be "really stable."
Bon Echo, in contrast, introduces more new end-user features that have not yet been fully tested, making the release more of a real alpha.
"We're purposefully pushing this alpha out as a real alpha, which means that the code is shaky, so it's meant for testing purposes. I'm not saying that it's unusable or unstable; we don't know of any data loss bugs at this point," Beltzner wrote.
"I am saying that it's not going to provide the same level of polish and shine as our previous 'alpha' releases."
The alpha 1 release includes initial attempts at a revised extension manager. One of the aspects of the new extension manager is something called "extension blocklisting," which will block "bad" extensions from running.
RSS content detection and feed subscription also see a change in Bon Echo. Currently Firefox 1.5 users are alerted to feeds with Mozilla's RSS icon (a feature call "Live Bookmarks"), which coincidentally is the same icon that is used in Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.
The Bon Echo RSS implementation is supposed to make subscription and actual feed reading simpler for average users.
The new bookmarks and history system, called "places," get a new data storage layer utilizing SQLite. According to a Mozilla wiki entry on the feature enhancement the revisions have the objectives of improving access to History and Bookmarks, as well as trying to make it easier for people to bookmark pages.
There is a lot more to come in the Alpha 2 release.
Mozilla's development roadmap refers to the Alpha 1 release as "dogfood," while the Alpha 2 release, expected in May, is "feature complete."
For many, a new user interface may prove to be the most "visible" end user change. The default icons for Firefox are two years old, and a Mozilla wiki entry noted that, "popular icon styles and colours have changed in the interim resulting in our set looking somewhat dated."
Firefox's rival and the champion of the first browser war, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, isn't sitting idly by.
Earlier this week, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates formally announced a revised beta 2 preview of IE 7.
The first IE 7 Beta 2 release was unveiled at the end of January.
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