Firefox ups its firepower

By   |  September 28, 2004

Application: Firefox 1.0 Preview Release

Category: Browser


Download: www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/

Price: Free

Platforms: Windows, Linux, MacOS X (Contributed builds at time of release Solaris x86, Solaris SPARC, Sun\’s Java Desktop System, OS/2, Solaris, BeOS, AIX)

FireFox 1.0 Preview Release(PR) was released just a few days ago and has already been downloaded more than a million times. Tectonic took the browser for a spin to tests its wares.

I\’ve become something of a Firefox fan over the last few months. Before this I begrudgingly used the overly cumbersome Mozilla suite of tools. That was until I discovered Firebird some months back and quickly fell in love with the slim profile, the tabbed browsing and the simple and clean lines. And just when most thought it couldn\’t get any better along comes Firefox 1.0 Preview with a host of new features and very little bulk to show for it.

Firefox 1.0 is a huge leap forward for browser technology by my measure. There are those that still believe the browser wars are still alive and well but to be honest, if this is the firepower the Firefox has at its disposal the competition stands very little chance.

Installation

Firefox installion on Linux is a breeze. Firefox 1.0 has a very tidy installer that does all the dirty work for you. Windows users wil feel very much at home with this type of install. Also Firefox includes all neede elements in the download so no need to compile, recompile, track down libraries and recompile yet again. If you\’re using Linux and you\’re using a graphical file manager (Konqueror, Nautilus etc) simply uncompress the file you downloaded and double-click on the \”firefox-installer\” file to bring up the installer.

If you\’re a little more hardcore and determined to use the command line, uncompress the file you downloaded, move into the firefox-installer directory and run the \”firefox-installer\” file and the same installation dialogue box will pop up. As simple as can be.

First looks

Firefox has a now fairly recognisable interface and Firefox 1.0PRE ships with the expected lean and mean look users have become used to. This version does include a new theme with a few \”chunkier\” icons and the standard search box in the top bar. Overall the browser is clean and highly usable. On the surface little has changed between previous versions of the browser an dthis version. But looks can be deceiving and there are a number of new (or newish) features that make Firefox 1.0 an awesome browser.

Loading Web sites in the latest version of Firefox is every bit as easy and as quick as in previous incarnations. The now-standard tabbed browing interface is among the browser\’s best features. Firefox is really quick loading Web sites even over a standard 56K dial-up with less-than-ideal bandwidth.

Best features

But the real strength of Firefox 1.0 lies in just a few clever innovations that elevate the browser above the competition significantly. My current favourite features are these:

1 – The ability to bookmark all your favourite news sites in a single folder and then launch these into individual tabs with one click. For news junkies (and media workers that have to keep up with what\’s going on) this is a crucially important capability. To take advantage of this feature create a folder in the \”Manage Bookmarks\” window. Then bookmark your favourite news sites into this folder. Next time you want to open all these sites simply select the folder from the bookmarks toolbar and the pop-out menu includes the option to \”Open in Tabs\”.

2 – Integrated RSS aggregator called Live Bookmarks. Although not actually a fully fledged RSS aggregator this is the next best thing. How it works is when you visit a site with and XML/RSS news feed available a small RSS icon appears in the bottom right hand side of the browser. Click on this icon to add the site\’s news feed to your bookmarks as a \”live\” bookmark. Next time you use your bookmarks there will be an entry for that particular site with all the latest headlines included and linked in the menu. A simple and elegant solution for the news hungry.

If you would prefer a more fully featured RSS news reader then have a look at the Sage news aggregator extension which is simple and lightweight but gets the job done.

3 – This version of Firefox also has a greatly improved find facilty built into the browser. If you need to find text on a page simply push control-F (in Linux or equivalent Windows) and the find bar appears along the bottom of the browser. To find the word you\’re looking for type it into the search box and watch as the word is found while you\’re still typing. This is relatively standard stuff but what makes the find facility so powerful is the \”highlight\” button to the right of the search box. Click this on and watch as every instance of the word you\’re looking for is highlighted on the page in front of you. The higlight feature completely removes the need to repeat searches on the page before you find the particular occurance you\’re lookign for. Especially if you use the Internet for research you\’ll find this really handy. The search facility also finds instances of multiple words.

4 – Extensions. Firefox may well ship as a lightweight browser with a minimal (albeit powerful) set of tools but there is no reason that you have to live without your favourite browser features. A growing list of extensions for Firefox mean that you can extend your browser in as many ways as you can imagine. Two of my current favourite extensions are the Sage news aggregator extension and SpellBound, a full-featured spell checker for checking the text in online forms. The second is a fantastic benefit especially if you\’re an online publisher and tend to publish a lot of your content through a Web-based application. Extensions are also really simple to install. Simply find the one you want and click on \”install\”. Firefox takes care of the rest.

In closing, Firefox is now an essential part of my online life. It\’s simple and clean interface belies its functionality which by far makes Firefox the best browser around.

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