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by Mike Zazaian September 27, 2006 - 8:17am, 5 Comments

Firefox 2 RC1 Hands-on

Mozilla released the first release candidate of Firefox 2 yesterday, a browser with a fair showing of new features under the hood. We’ll review all the new goodies so you don’t have to dig them out.

Firefox 2 RC1 doesn’t look wholly different from the latest official build of Firefox, but there are certainly some useful new features that improve the browser’s usability. Some of the features were included in previous Firefox 2 beta releases, but we’ll give you the full rundown anyhow:

Fit and finish: Firefox’s hallmark browsing icons have gotten a neat little face lift, each with a new sheen. The tabs also have a new silvery look to them, as do the orange close tab buttons included on each tab.

Tabbed Browsing:The aforementioned close buttons on each tab is a new feature, but they come at the cost of close tab button that was formerly located at the far right of the tab toolbar. While I haven’t quite gotten used to the new button location yet, the close button on each tab saves non-keystroke users a cursor trip to the right side of the browser. Then again, with several tabs open the addition of a close button with each tab means decreased tab toolbar real estate. Hard to say whether this was a good change at this point.

However, in place of the old close tab button is a new Tab dropdown menu that displays all active tabs in one place. It’s a really nice feature reminiscent of what happens when a bookmark toolbar overflows. Definitely a nice update here.

Search: Live suggestions are now included at the bottom of Google, Yahoo and Ask.com searches in the search window, giving additional suggested results based on your search terms. The function works just as the ajax-ified Google suggest, but doesn’t require an extension as it previously did. Also, the added support for Yahoo and Ask.com should be useful for those who prefer those search engines.

Phishing Protection: This is a very important feature on this browser. Firefox 2 will automatically download and block a list of known Phishing sites, that is mimic sites that attempt to get users to enter personal information for identity theft purposes. When visiting a known phishing page Firefox 2 alerts the user and offers to return to the user’s homepage. A very nice feature that protects even the most vigilant web surfers.

Resume Browser Session: Whereas extension updates and browser crashes once meant a loss of your browsing session, Firefox 2 will now save and re-open all tabs that were active prior to restart/crash. Very nice indeed.

Inline spell checking: When entering text into any form fields, Firefox now adds a faint red dotted line under words that it believes to be misspelled. It doesn’t correct the word, but it lets you know that it’s there without the help of a resource-consuming plugin.

Live Bookmarks: Rather than displaying plain XML as it did in the past, the Live Bookmarks feature now formats the XML into a clean and simple interface. It also offers a list of RSS readers to which users can add the feed, much like the Feedburner interface.

There are some other less consequential updates in Firefox 2, but those are the big ones. All in all Mozilla has done a good job of integrating all of the great Firefox 1.5 functionality into a cleaner, more usable package. Granted, the updates we’re talking about aren’t enormous, but if they improve the way you surf around on a daily basis Mozilla has done their job. There aren’t any big Web 2.0 features like those Flock has made a name with, but that’s not the place of Firefox. Mozilla is trying to put out a mass-market browser that will continue to gain ground of Internet Explorer over the next couple of years, and they’ve done just that. We’ll leave the big Milestones for the release of Firefox 3, which is currently in its alpha 1 development stage.

[Download Firefox 2 RC1]