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Quick Review: Mozilla Firefox 1.0

With this experience under my belt, I took a quick look at Firefox 1.0. And while there are other products that incorporate some of these features, I know of no other browser that can match Firefox's combination of features, compatibility, extendibility and price.

Update: November 17th, 2004
Read our expanded review of Firefox 1.0 by Scot Finnie

Topping my list of reasons for adopting Firefox 1.0 is security. Take, for example, its lack of support for ActiveX controls. Although a limiting factor for organizations relying on ActiveX-based applications, this also means Firefox will be very limited in the types of viral and Trojan infections it can pass on to a computer. Moreover, unlike some browsers, Firefox is not integrated into the operating system. Security and feature updates occur frequently, without the need of an operating system update.

There are many other, more productive aspects of Firefox 1.0 that I found beneficial. Here are a few of my favorite things.

1. Cross-platform compatibility. Firefox is available for Linux, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. My preferred operating system is Linux, but at work I have to use Microsoft Windows to maintain compatibility with corporate applications. Firefox allows me to use the same browsing conventions and maintain the same features on both platforms. Using the bookmarks manager, bookmarks can be synchronized between both different operating systems and different machines running the same operating system.

2. Built in pop-up blocking. A lot of Web sites have become inundated with pop-up and pop-under advertisements. Firefox eliminates most of these by default when installed.

3. Ad blocking. Many users find blinking banner ads and Flash animation panels distracting when they are reading a Web page. With the Adblock extension installed, all these distractions can be removed. Adblock even has an option to collapse the blank space left when the advertisement is removed.

Figure 1. A customized Sage view, with the CSS developed by Scott Kingery.

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4. RSS client. The Sage extension organizes and displays RSS feeds. It uses a group of bookmarks to maintain a list of sites and arranges them in three panes. Two satellite panes contain a list of sites and a headline list. The main pane displays headlines and summaries of the site's articles. The appearance of the main pane can be modified with a user-defined CSS page. (See Figure 1.)

Firefox is supposed to be able to use 'Live Bookmarks' as well as actively and directly monitor RSS feeds, with which I have not had any luck. Live bookmarks can be easily added to the browser. When browsing a site with an active RSS feed, just click on the small orange icon that appears in the lower right corner of the browser window. A selection menu will appear, activating a subscription to the site. That part works great. The problem with live bookmarks is they appear to be dead. They update when Firefox is started for the first time, but they do not automatically update when the browser is in use. I hope this will be corrected in the future, because this will be a nice feature to have built into the browser.

Figure 2. Opening a group of tabs with one menu command.

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5. Tabbed browsing. I know Opera had tabbed browsing years before Firefox even existed, but I think this capability is still worth noting. I like the ability to have multiple Web sites open in one browser session. Tabs are also useful when opening bookmarks. The bookmarks can be organized as a group and opened with a single 'Open in Tabs' selection from the bookmark menu. (See Figure 2.)

There is at least one difference between running Firefox on Linux and running it on Windows. On both platforms, Firefox can be set to automatically check for updates. It will display a small red icon in the upper right corner when a critical update is available. However, attempting to update the Linux-based browser by clicking the icon will usually fail because of a file permission error. (See Figure 3.)

Most Linux users operate their computers as a user without root permissions. Since at least part of the update must overwrite files owned by root, the update will fail. To get past this, you should temporarily run Firefox as the root user and install the update. I am not recommending connecting to the Internet as root, but root is necessary for the automatic update to work. A more secure method is to download an entire patched version and install it locally. Windows users should not have this issue because most are operating with administrative rights.

Figure 3. This is the error when updating Firefox as a non-root Linux user.

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