Last week, Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7. Today, Mozilla, the spawn of Microsoft's 1990s' browser nemesis Netscape, released Firefox 2.0. The browser wars are back.
The official Firefox 2.0 release (FF 2) is the culmination of months of effort from Mozilla that spanned at least three alphas, two betas and three release candidates.
Firefox 2.0 began under the code name Bon Echo and released its first public alpha milestone in March.
FF2 includes new features, a new look and more stability and performance than its predecessors in the 1.5.x Firefox branch, which debuted nearly a year ago; Firefox 1.0 was officially launched the year before 1.5.
"The focus of Firefox 2.0 overall is all about how do we take the core things that people like about Firefox and enhance them and at the same time enhance the quality of the overall platform," Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's vice president for engineering, told internetnews.com.
One of the items that people love about Firefox is a tabbed browser, which got a much-needed overhaul in Firefox 2.0.
Also, active tabs are now more easily distinguished from dormant ones, and the long standing issue of tab overflow has finally been fixed.
From the first implementation of tabs in Mozilla browsers until Firefox 2.0, the tab bar could only support a finite number of tabs after which tabs are lost.
Tab overflow in FF 2 allows users to have more tabs open and accessible than are actually viewable on the screen, a fix that appeared in the Beta 2 release .
FF 2.0 also boasts a visual refresh over FF 1.5.x, though it's relatively subtle and is aimed at improving usability more than it is about changing the look.
Security received a boost FF 2.0, thanks to the inclusion of Google's safe browsing technology, which was first implemented in the Alpha 3 release . Safe browsing is an anti-phishing technology that notifies users if they are visiting a suspected phishing site.
The biggest change that users are likely to experience though is the stability and performance of the browser, which Schroepfer said has been much improved.
"Because we weren't making huge changes in the rendering engine and things like that we were really able to concentrate on crash fixes, tuning memory performance and making sure we can add new features without impacting overall performance in a negative fashion," Schroepfer said.
"We fixed many hundreds of bugs that were in existence before the dev of FF 2.0 started," Schroepfer added. "It's the summation of all these little things that just make the product feel really good."
The "feel good" aspect is a key component of Mozilla Firefox's success, according to Schroepfer.
"What we've really tried to do in 2.0 is not the big flash bang of new features that kind of jump up in your face, but more about how do we build a product that people love," Schroepfer said.
The Firefox feature list once held a wide gap over Microsoft's IE, but it's a gap that has narrowed somewhat with the IE 7 release.
"They [Microsoft] have copied a lot of features from Firefox which is good," Schroepfer said.
"Most importantly I'm excited to see them back in the game. They took a five-year hiatus from the market, they were in maintenance mode and that really put a huge break in productivity and innovation on the web."
With the IE 7 release and now the FF 2.0 release, innovation is back and is likely not to be on hiatus in 2007.
Microsoft has said that it is already planning IE 8 and 9, though it hasn't yet published any release dates.
Mozilla isn't resting either; the organization is actively at work at FF 2.0's successor, Firefox 3.0, which is expected to appear in 2007.
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