After my previous post turned into something of a mammoth essay, I decided to start afresh with my running commentary on the installation and first impressions of Firefox 2 for Windows. Regular blog readers may remember that I reviewed the Mac version a few days ago, but the Windows version sits within a completely different operating system, and as such will undoubtedly operate differently, hence this separate review.
The installer file size was remarkably small, a mere 5.4MB – something for Microsoft to aspire to! The installation process was incredibly fast, gave useful information on what it was installing and how far into the process it was, and didn’t require a reboot of the computer. That’s what comes from not having the browser built into the operating system I suppose.
Visually FF2 looks quite at home on Windows, in contrast to the Mac version, which looks decidedly out of place, and didn’t exhibit any clash of design elements like IE7. In fact, there is very little that has changed visually from the previous release of Firefox – it has been spruced up in places, but it’s still essentially the same browser, with everything in the same familiar places and everything working as you’d expect it to. Upon starting up for the first time it found visual themes I had downloaded for older versions of FF, which weren’t compatible – FF2 did offer to go off and see if there were any updates for those themes available, but I declined the offer on this occasion, since I can do that another time. The browser then opened to display a fairly basic but attractive page saying “You’ve Updated To The Latest Version of Firefox”. I’m not entirely sure of the necessity for the capitalised letters on all those words, or indeed why ‘of’ got left out. Then again, if the browser is being developed by people from across the globe and being distributed in dozens of languages, I think we might be able to let them off on this occasion.
The Mozilla team have been very keen to stress how kind and thoughtful they’ve been in including close buttons on every tab in FF2. It is indeed very useful, and closing multiple unwanted tabs is lightning fast since each page doesn’t need to be displayed before it can be closed. I’m not sure that it warrants quite the press Mozilla have been giving it though, it’s not all that impressive in the grand scale of things. More impressive is the search box in the top right corner of the browser. As you type your search term, a drop down menu appears underneath giving suggestions as to what you might be looking for, which instantly updates itself the more characters you type, narrowing down the search criteria as you type. For instance, I wanted to search for ‘Google Mail’ – by the time I’d typed “google” it was already displaying “google mail” fourth in the list of suggestions. I believe this uses Google Suggest, a relatively new functionality the search organisation has made available for developers to use.
Scaling still only handles text in FF2, as opposed to Opera and IE7 which now scale images and layouts too (to a certain extent). While this reduces the possibility of things going wrong in terms of the layout scaling, it does put the pressure on web designers to make sure that if the text is too big for a container that it doesn’t break the layout. Web page designs that use fixed size div containers, for instance, might start to look odd when the text is increased to 200%.
Firefox 2 certainly isn’t as flashy as IE7, or indeed as flashy as some might have expected from a major new release of this popular browser, but with an enormous user community and constant development, you really can make this browser whatever you want it to be. Add-ons are readily available, and it’s smaller footprint and more organised interface may make it a more attractive option for those with slower computers who don’t want to miss out on the web 2.0 experience. My only concern is that Mozilla haven’t done enough to attract new users to Firefox 2 – visually it looks far less exciting than IE7, and now that Microsoft have addressed some of the CSS nightmares of IE6, web designers and everyday users may well struggle to see the benefit in Firefox for the time being.