Microsoft announced yesterday that they were releasing their long-awaited Internet Explorer 7 to the public. It has been available in BETA for a while now, but the final product is now available for download, and will be automatically installed on computers worldwide as part of an Automatic Update in November. Almost simultaneously, as if to counter the move, Firefox 2 has been made available in a similar way. Firefox 2 isn’t complete yet, and will not be officially released for another couple of weeks, but it is available as a sneak preview on all platforms. Opera also got an update, though only a minor one, and no doubt very few people will work out what the difference is.
I have so far resisted the temptation to install IE7, mainly because I still want to be able to test web sites on IE6 for the moment, since most computers will still be using that. I’ve certainly heard nothing about being able to run IE7 and IE6 side by side, it sounds more like the one will upgrade the other and replace it entirely. Which is a good thing, in that no one wants IE6 around any longer, but from a development point of view as a web designer I still need to ensure that web sites work on the browser most people have, which at the moment is still IE6.
Firefox on the other hand was quickly updated on my Mac, since I mainly use Camino for browsing anyway. Firefox 2 looks much like Firefox 1.5, with only a few cosmetic enhancements. I’m sure there are many technical aspects that have been addressed in this released, but the obvious when you start up are the visual ones. Tabs now have their own close buttons (finally), and pretty much anything you can click now has a hover glow, echoing the interface of Opera. Firefox 2 also includes a handy predictive search in the top right corner – as you type, a list opens up giving you suggestions of what you might be searching for, potentially speeding up the time between beginning typing and actually sending your request to the search engine. It’s a bit of a gimmick, and probably only really useful for people who type relatively slowly, but it’s still a nice touch.
My biggest gripe with Firefox 2 is still the interface though. The title bar is still not unified with the button bar and links bar, as it is in Camino and most other Mac-specific programs. Indeed the whole interface design seems to have been focussed on Windows users – the tab close buttons are small (x) symbols in the right hand corner, and the navigation buttons are very Windows-esque. Not only that, but all the system glyphs (i.e. buttons, check boxes, radio buttons, etc.) look like they’ve been taken straight out of Windows 95, and don’t take into account what platform you’re actually running the browser on. We are told these things will hopefully be addressed in Firefox 3, which is already in development, but it still comes a little too late for my liking. Oh, and the back button looks smaller than it actually is – when hovering over it a tiny button-like embossed icon appears, but the button itself extends beyond that button shape.
So for the moment I am still using Camino as my main Mac browser, since its appearance is slightly more refined and more reassuring, while still using the powerful Gecko rendering engine. It may not have the customisability that Firefox 1.5 sports (Firefox 2 is not yet compatible with all your old themes and extensions), but Camino has established itself as a ‘proper’ Mac browser, and since Microsoft has abandoned the Mac market completely and Safari doesn’t like online tools like FCKEditor, I’m sticking with Camino for now.